Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is well known but, let’s be honest, it could do with an update.
Imagine the bard’s work transformed to feature female and queer narratives while turning tragedy to comedy through one of the best methods possible: clowning.
This is that show.
Not Romeo and Juliet, created and performed by inimitable clowns and founding members of the Melbourne-based queer neo-vaudeville comedy troupe PO PO MO CO Kimberley Twiner and Lily Fish, is coming to FRINGE WORLD 2019.
We can’t wait to see it for ourselves, and we had a chat about the show with Lily Fish to satisfy our pre-Fringe cravings.
Gutter Culture: Tell us about what inspired Not Romeo and Juliet.
Lily Fish: Honestly, mostly our shared sense of mischief. Shakespeare’s supposed to be serious, especially the tragedies. It’s supposed to have good acting and be set in a theatre and originally all the roles were played by men. Our version is set in a circus where two female clowns attempt to perform the entirety of Romeo and Juliet, having never even read the script before.
GC: You talk about putting female and queer narratives front and centre, and colonising existing texts… tell us more about that.
LF: As young queer people growing up we felt there was a real gap in the stories we were exposed to. We both loved films like 10 Things I Hate About You or Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet but they were so hetero-normative. We’re really interested in making work that has femme and queer lead characters and perspectives. One of the ways we do this is by taking stories we know and love, and repopulating them with people like us.
GC: Did you aim for Not Romeo and Juliet to be an all-ages show in the early stages of development? If so, why?
LF: We began making this show during the plebiscite. I can remember sitting on the grass outside our rehearsal space on our lunch break, looking up at the sky and watching a plane write a giant NO above us. That was the political climate this work emerged from. We made Not Romeo and Juliet as a giant YES. An uplifting, joyous, brave YES. It’s important that this YES is accessible to all audiences, younger, older, liberal, conservative, whoever. Many different people are part of the LGBTQIA+ community and we want this show to be accessible to all of them, and our allies, and even our future allies.
GC: What do you think you would have thought and felt seeing a show like this one in your formative years?
LF: I would have loved this show. It’s absolutely hilarious, fast-paced, intelligent, completely silly and most importantly it affirms queer love without feeling daggy or didactic. In addition to this it is kind of an invitation to everyone to rewrite the classic narratives, however you see fit – which is a powerful and exciting message. I definitely wish I’d seen a show like this as a young person.
GC: What was the most challenging or rewarding aspect of taking this tragic narrative and creating a comedic and inclusive performance from it?
LF: We were very clear that we wanted to make an uplifting show. We didn’t want to perpetuate the dead lesbian trope. Perhaps then working on Romeo and Juliet was a weird choice. But we’re clowns, and beautiful thing about clowns is that they have their own naïve logic. If clowns want Romeo and Juliet to have a happy ending, they can!
GC: Female and queer narratives amplified through a reappropriation of Shakespeare, plus theatrical anarchy sounds like a joy to witness. What do you hope audiences will take from seeing Not Romeo and Juliet?
LF: We want our audiences to have fun and laugh. Every night after our Melbourne shows people would hang around to tell us how happy they felt. That’s the best and that’s what we’re aiming for: joy and celebration.
GC: Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know?
LF: Prepare yourself for stupidity. This is not conventional Shakespeare by any stretch of the imagination, but it is ridiculously good fun.
Not Romeo and Juliet runs 29 January to 2 February. Get tickets here.