Her Romeo centres around the peripheral characters in Romeo and Juliet, particularly a female recreation of Benvolio, Benvolia, who is driven to guilt and anxiety through her unrequited love for Romeo. Much like in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead or After Juliet, Shakespeare’s central characters play out their story in the background. This time, writer and director Becca Chadder shows us the tragedy from the perspective of Benvolia – her thought processes and emotions.
While the tragedy from her perspective initially proved interesting, it quite quickly became confusing. Although I cannot claim to be an expert on Shakespeare, I have studied Romeo and Juliet and I’d assume that almost all of the audience had – at least – a rudimentary grasp of the main plot. This was often distorted because speech from minor characters interrupted it. Compounding this was the issue of who the characters actually were. Thankfully, I benefitted from the cast list that the producer very kindly provided me with before the show. Unlike me, however, the rest of the audience had to make do with the actors holding their names and roles up on chalk boards before the lights went up (even though some were playing multiple characters).
The play became slightly more enjoyable as it went along. I appreciate that it was staged during Bedfest where there is limited time and stage equipment available, but early scenes such as the Capulet’s party felt totally contrived, as though its caricature present-day setting was trying to make an inaccessible play accessible, often through Benvolia lighting up a spliff. Mercutio and Tybalt’s deaths were well acted and provided a little relief in their being part of a landmark scene from which you could place the narrative of the play. The last ten minutes, however, were a flurry of scene and character changes that bordered on the incomprehensible. I was picking out lines and phrases that might give me an offering of where we were in the story and what was going on. As I left the theatre, I overheard several groups asking what had happened at the end.
It should, nevertheless, be said that standout performances came from Olivia Thom and Fergus Head. Thom genuinely convinced me of Benvolia’s desperation and aptly carried what should have been the standout message of the play – a female character alienated in a male-driven play. Head has become known for his wit and humour on and off stage and he used this to create an original portrayal of Mercutio, a character of whom many people already have a pretty well-formed image.
Perhaps I don’t get it and perhaps reviewers in the future will have a better understanding of the denouement and the characters in Her Romeo. In my view, however, good theatre should not leave its audience confused about the most basic plot and character developments in the play. Chadder is an accomplished writer and director with many successes to her name and I hope that Paprichoo Theatre continues to prosper. Nonetheless, Her Romeo may need multiple changes to make it more than a misshapen chaos of well-seeming forms.