Wherefore art thou, Romeo

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Posted 20 March, 2024
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The classic love story of Romeo and Juliet will play out in Wānaka this Friday but with a wee bit of a twist. Expect to see one of Shakespeare’s most famous plays with hilarious and heartfelt antics.

Taking to the stage for the play will be seven actors – it has been set as a modern-bohemian romance that features some Kiwi and Aussie classic music. Singing and dancing is encouraged and the show’s co-director and company artistic director, Laura Irish, says that as cliché as it sounds, all the feedback on their Australia and New Zealand tour so far has been that it’s unlike any version of Romeo and Juliet that people have ever seen. Ollie Howlett is the other co-director and musical director.

“We really lean into the amount of joy that Shakespeare has written into the first half of the play and we essentially perform the show in two halves,” Irish says. “The first half of the play could be viewed as purely a comedy – there’s so much music in the show as well. The music that Ollie has created for the show is stunningly beautiful and he’s used all Kiwi and Australian music. We do songs by Dave Dobbyn and The Dregs, and it’s just peppered throughout the whole show.

“We also incorporate elements of crowd work, interaction and improv. While we stick to Shakespeare’s script, it is edited down so that we can include music but it’s also edited down in a way that gives us actors a bit of freedom to play and surprise the audience. So every show is a little bit different.”

The crew is based all over NZ including Nelson, Auckland, Hawke’s Bay and Wellington and they perform around 50-60 shows across NZ. They’ll be heading to Wānaka off the back of a high as they recently finished their first ever tour in Australia. They were fortunate to pick up the Best Theatre award for the first week of the Adelaide Fringe Festival, going up against 1300 shows, and will be nominated for several bigger awards now as a result of that, the team were “incredibly stoked because we’ve never been to the festival before.”

They’ve been doing Romeo and Juliet since November and it’s the fifth show they’ve pulled together over the past five years. In the past the troupe have also won awards at Dunedin’s Fringe Festival including for their rendition of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Rockabilly Much Ado About Nothing. Their shows are set outside in gardens as the company was created in response to Covid-19 – allowing theatre to continue to be delivered during social distancing days. Now, they continue the tradition as something fun and unique.

Summing up the experience, the group sets the scene as a small troupe of travelling actors showing up to perform Shakespeare, comedy and live music for you while you drink wine with your closest mates. Irish also says that they hope to bring more shows down these ways in the future, including to Queenstown.

“The talent that the cast has musically is unparalleled. It’s really really special to hear everyone sing together. It’s different but we kind of have our own brand of how we like to do things, which is a little bit left of field.”

Barden Party’s Romeo and Juliet will play out at Paddons Paddock from 5.30pm on Friday, 22 March. As it’s an outdoor event, be sure to rug up – you can also bring chairs and blankets if you’d like. More information and tickets can be found at Event Finda.


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