WAAPA travels to 1950s Italy for Romeo and Juliet at Studio Underground

Romeo and Juliet - Poppy Lynch (20) of North Perth and Jonathan Lagudi (22) of Highgate. Picture: Andrew Ritchie d491160
Romeo and Juliet - Poppy Lynch (20) of North Perth and Jonathan Lagudi (22) of Highgate. Picture: Andrew Ritchie d491160

ENGLISH actor and director Michael Jenn says there is nothing like being in a terrible production of a play to make you want to direct it.

He found himself in that position during a season of Romeo and Juliet, and so he jumped at the opportunity when the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA) again invited him to Perth.

With support from the philanthropic organisation Minderoo Foundation, he will direct the Shakespearean classic for the third-year acting students.

“It’s a play that’s done a lot and seems to have this reputation for being a sweet, gentler romance and I’ve always seen it as a much tougher play than that,” Jenn said.

“It is romantic but I’ve always seen the gangland side of it with these two feuding, warring families, which is there in the script.

“It’s very violent; it’s a very sensual play and is much richer and more complex than most people give it credit for, and for a tragedy there is so much comedy in it.”

Romeo and Juliet – Poppy Lynch (20) of North Perth and Jonathan Lagudi (22) of Highgate. Picture: Andrew Ritchie d491160

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Jenn, who studied at Bristol Old Vic Theatre School and lives in London, said WAAPA’s Romeo and Juliet was set in post-war Italy.

“I was looking for a period in history where society was undergoing great change and when the real gangland culture started to kick in,” he said.

“And particularly a period where youth all over Europe were demanding a higher stake in society and more status.

“They were going through huge changes themselves and suddenly had some disposable income, and were buying motorbikes and Vespas.

“It seems to belong – not that it couldn’t be done in other periods.”

Romeo and Juliet – Poppy Lynch (20) of North Perth and Jonathan Lagudi (22) of Highgate. Picture: Andrew Ritchie d491160

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Jenn said he had edited the script to make it shorter, hoping Shakespeare would not be “turning in his grave” and said the change meant the cast was able to approach the script like a new play.

“The problem we have in England is that Shakespeare has done so much that people revere him as this dead poet, so you can’t often get a fresh take on it,” Jenn said.

“Working with young actors in Australia who might not have seen, or done as much Shakespeare as in the UK, they don’t have that problem of cultural inheritance of ‘the great Bard’.

“Some of the best Shakespeare productions I’ve seen have been not in the UK.

“It’s not the case that the English do Shakespeare better than anyone else and we know he didn’t sound like me; he had an accent closer to an American accent.

“I always say to students not to do an English accent unless you feel it’s right for the character. Use your own accent, and they do.”

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THE ESSENTIALS

What: Romeo and Juliet

Where: Studio Underground, State Theatre Centre of WA

When: March 15 to 21

Tickets: www.ptt.wa.gov.au