Writer: Ben Power
Director: Selina Cartmell
Reviewer: Monica Insinga
Selina Cartmell’s multi-award winning Siren Productions is back with the Irish premiere of Ben Power’s A Tender Thing (2009) adapted from William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Power’s play—originally commissioned by RSC—explores the idea of: “What if… the star-cross’d lovers had lived and loved?” and imagines the world’s most famed lovers as having spent their lives together until fate steps in once more.
Power’s text uses Shakespeare’s lines (mostly from Romeo and Juliet with occasional other sources) to literally rewrite the timeless love story in a way that all hopeless romantics wished for. So, as you would expect, A Tender Thing starts with the final scene of Shakespeare’s classic with Romeo arriving at Juliet’s grave, ready to join her in death, and instead finds her alive and well. However, what’s visibly different is the setting, which is now the couple’s bedroom, with Romeo (Owen Roe) delivering his first speech standing over Juliet (Olwen Fouéré) who is in bed, eerily suggesting from the very beginning that this will be her final resting place.
If Power’s script safely does not wander away from Shakespeare’s immortal language, he anyhow succeeds in creating an original variant to what eternal love can look like, by focussing only on the lovers and visually excluding all the other characters of the original. Even if Power’s script can feel predictable, and could have used more of the comedic portions of the original to balance out the tragic elements here transposed, his use of the love scene (the only one originally set in Juliet’s bedroom) as the death scene here is a stroke of genius.
Monica Frawley’s inspired bedroom setting with semi-open views into the bathroom and closet is a way to enhance the focus on intimacy that the audience is meant to share; and yet, at the same time, the whole room is enclosed in a large-bordered picture frame, meant to remind us that this is still a work of visual fiction. Her visionary backdrop works particularly well for the nostalgic finale when we are reminded that, once more, true love can outlast death and suffering.
This ending might seem slightly too sentimental, if not for the emphasis put on Juliet’s terminal illness—the very real cause that leads once more to her premature death—throughout the play. What was originally the paradigm of true love at a young age, here becomes a treatment of real love that endures the test of time and undeniable pain, beautifully portrayed by the outstanding performances of Roe and Fouéré. What makes this a show not to be missed is their profound portrayal of what a loving relationship should be, precisely and meticulously directed by the uncompromising Selina Cartmell.
Photo courtesy of Siren Productions | Runs until Saturday 15th February 2014.