Sport for Jove artistic director Damien Ryan feels with the present political climate there is no better time for a truly teenage Romeo and Juliet.
“We’re right in the middle of a moment where teenagers, to use the phrase in the play, ‘passion lends them power’. You’ve got Greta Thunberg, one of the most famous faces currently on Earth, at the UN screaming how dare you and begging adults to listen,” says Ryan.
“Children are standing up and saying listen to us and that is what this play is about. It’s a warning about how a village’s moral pollution and problems can have a really detrimental effect, as Greta Thunberg and these other people are trying to tell us.”
Shakespeare company Sport for Jove’s outdoor production of Romeo and Juliet (until December 30) stars two year 11 students – 17-year-old Claudia Elbourne as Juliet and 16-year-old Oliver Ryan – as Romeo. Both have past experience with Shakespeare as part of the company’s education program, Second Age Project.
And while Franco Zeffirelli famously cast teenagers in his 1968 film version of the tragedy, Ryan says it is still uncommon to cast teens as the “star-cross’d lovers” on stage. “Over the 20 or 30 Romeo and Juliets I’ve seen professionally in this country, I’ve never personally seen it in a major production.”
For Ryan the unconventional casting decision has paid off handsomely. “They’re phenomenal actors but there’s a natural teenage awkwardness that no older actor can dream of capturing,” he says.
“When the couple kiss they still blush and pull away giggling. Once you’ve got 26-year-olds doing it their first instinct is to make sure they’re kissing terribly well. It’s just brought an authenticity.”
Romeo and Juliet, 8pm, Bella Vista Farm Park, cnr Norwest Boulevard and Elizabeth MacArthur Drive, Bella Vista, $42, sportforjove.com.au.