It was a night of song, passionate verses and young love as Toy Factory’s Romeo and Juliet took to the stage. From the outset, it was clear that this revival of Shakespeare’s tragic love story was going to be something different. Actors came on stage decked entirely in white, dressed in modern garb which you couldn’t quite imagine seeing in 16th century Verona.
But then again, such is the beauty of Shakespeare’s work isn’t it? It always manages to find some resonance no matter the time and place. We’re pretty sure Shakespeare never imagined that his work would be staged in modern day Singapore as well.
But I digress. Since most if not all audiences would be familiar with the play’s story-line, it’s undoubtedly the acting and staging that sets one Shakespeare production apart from another. And boy, did Benjamin Kheng do a commendable job as Romeo. Or maybe it’s just because I’m biased and find him irresistibly charming. Then again, an entire group of teenage girls swooning in the audience can’t be wrong either.
Proving he’s more than just a pretty face, Kheng’s portrayal truly made us believe that he was a young and reckless teenager in love. Coupled with impressive stage presence, the young actor shows much promise and it would be interesting to see him mature over the years should he choose to pursue a stage career. We’ll even overlook the fact that his next starring role is in Ah Boys to Men: The Musical. Don’t even get me started on that.
Ethel Yap holds her own as well, bringing to life Juliet’s beauty with her wide-eyed innocence and lovely vocals. The chemistry between her and Kheng was also palpable and convincing, and both leads complemented each other well during their duet. Another standout was Jo Tan, who brought much needed comic relief to the show as Juliet’s tai-chi loving nurse. My only gripe was that some of the cast members’ performances were rather underwhelming and their lack of experienced really showed on stage.
Whilst the leads may have delivered solid performances, the conversion of certain lines into musical tunes served to dilute rather than accentuate the meaning of the text. Composer Elaine Chan has tried her very best, and certain songs such as It Is My Lady and Wilt Thou Be Gone sung by Kheng and Yap are pleasantly catchy and melodious. However, the rest of the songs were either forgettable or jarring, such as a rap number which didn’t quite capture the brevity of the lines.
Despite not quite cutting it in terms of musical numbers, the clever staging and set design proved to be the show’s saving grace. Montagues and Capulets were always seen at opposite sides of the stage, highlighting the constant feuding between both families. The choreographed fight sequences could have been done away with though, coming across as cheesy and amateur. Masts of sailing vessels formed an integral part of the set design as well, providing an innovative re-imagining of the characters as wealthy yacht owners.
Whilst far from the best local production of Romeo and Juliet, Toy Factory’s attempts to offer a contemporary take on this classic tale are well worth applauding. Seeing as how many theatre-goers are in fact students on school trips, it’s efforts like these which help to create an appreciation for the arts among adolescents.
Photo credits: Toy Factory Productions