& Juliet

The-Australian-Company-of and-JULIET -photo-by-Daniel-BoudThere’s nothing new about musicals based on Shakespeare. The Boys from Syracuse (The Comedy of Errors), Kiss Me Kate (The Taming of the Shrew), Your Own Thing (Twelfth Night), Two Gentlemen of Verona, Boys Own McBeth (Macbeth) and of course West Side Story (Romeo and Juliet) immediately come to mind.

While & Juliet also draws on Romeo and Juliet for its inspiration, it also imagines a situation in which Shakespeare’s wife, Anne Hathaway, unhappy that Shakespeare has allowed Juliet to die at the end of his play tries to persuade him to let her help him rewrite his play to make Juliet less compliant.

In Anne’s wonderfully woke version, neither Juliet nor Romeo will die. Against his better judgement, Shakespeare reluctantly agrees to go along with his wife’s suggestions, partly to placate her, but mainly to protect his reputation.

Their resulting effort, is hugely entertaining, even occasionally thought- provoking, with new characters struggling with gender issues and unexpected situations that force Shakespeare and Anne to re-examine their own marriage and motivations.

All of this is played out in a delightfully boisterous, happy-go-lucky production which conjures up the vibe of a troupe of travelling players while, thanks to Soutra Gilmour’s inventive scenic design, has all the glitz and panache of a major Broadway musical.

Unsurprisingly, Rob Mills is surprisingly good as Shakespeare. Mills’ devil-may-care cheekiness and natural charm is completely in tune with the irreverent tone of the show and a delightful foil to Amy Lehpamer’s rather bossy Anne Hathaway.

Casey Donovan also shines with an ebullient, crowd-pleasing performance as Juliet’s nurse Angelique in a company alive with fresh new faces, many making their professional debuts.

One of these is Yashith Fernando who plays a new character, Francois, invented by Anne for her version of the play. Francois finds himself attracted to May, another new non-binary character, charmingly played by Jesse Dutlow, who explains the situation in the song, I’m Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman.

Adding additional spice to this particular performance was the fact that a number leading roles were played by covers. Replacing Lorinda May Merrypor, Imani Williams offered a confident, no-nonsense Juliet, her powerhouse voice marking her as an artist to watch.

Jordan Koulos, replacing Blake Appelqvist, was a delightfully dorky Romeo, and James Elmore brought appropriate dignity to the role of Lance, the role normally played Hayden Tee.

A red hot band directed by Michael Azzopardi, made sure every song harvested from Max Martin’s voluminous songbook sounded like a sure-fire hit, while choreographer, Jennifer Webber kept the cast on its toes with funky, idiosyncratic moves, which made Paloma Young’s eccentric ‘a little bit Shakespearean, a little bit steam-punk and a lot like wardrobe find costumes look sensational.

Okay! It’s not Shakespeare, but it sure is a lot of fun. Go see for yourself.

& Juliet
Sydney Lyric Theatre, 55 Pirrama Road, Pyrmont
Performance: Thursday 18 April 2024
Season continues to 12 July 2024
Information and Bookings: www.andjuliet.com.au

Image: The Australian Company of & Juliet – photo by Daniel Boud

Review: Bill Stephens OAM