Battersea Arts Centre, London
February 14, 2018
Warning: Ben Duke’s latest work is a guide to long[er] life and happy marriage only in the sense of how not to do it. It’s called Juliet and Romeo, and it is very much her show. The marvellous Solene Weinachter’s Juliet is, in short, a nightmare. A domineering harpy who has badgered her other half (Duke himself) into re-living, nay re-enacting, their escape from the tomb ad nauseam as long as it is her version of events. She gets pregnant, has the child, then moans about how hard it all is.
Meanwhile, Romeo goes out and earns a living whilst trying to forget that he has acquiesced to all of this since they were teenagers and maybe it isn’t what he wanted to do. In between they re-live the tomb scene, in the kitchen, in the living room, anywhere where they can hide from the kid. “How to I explain that mummy is not really dead but she likes to pretend that she is,” wails Romeo, not unreasonably.
They have escaped to an apartment in Paris, somewhat ironically given that Romeo has actually killed someone of just that name. A man knocks on their door, sent by their accomplice, Friar Laurence, who has been stirring it up in the background throughout. He plies them with whisky, resulting, as Romeo puts it, in “rather a lot of over sharing.” He pens a play where, of course, they die tragically in each other’s arms although not, of course, simultaneously, thus robbing them of the warped pleasure of having got their own teenage way and bested their warring parents.
Juliet loves the play because Juliet loves herself. Romeo insists that he never said half of the things attributed to him “because I don’t understand most of it.” There’s a glorious moment where, berating a traffic warden for giving her a ticket for double parking, she screams. “Do, you know who I am? I am Juliet – the one in the play.”
Juliet does not, however, love Romeo. She conveniently ignores, as do most people, the fact that he quickly gets over his obsession with Rosalind to just as quickly become obsessed with her and warps herself in the fantasy of her life as depicted in the play, except of course that she gets to control the ending and live.
Duke and Weinachter demonstrate the consequences in a searingly witty way. For all the dystopia, has plenty of laugh out loud moments. A particular favourite occurs when Juliet is explaining that she was rather nervous about ingesting the pseudo-toxin that Friar Laurence has given her to feign death because she doesn’t know what it is and, “Last time, the thing that he gave me for my acne gave me thrush for a month.”
The audience are in fact invited in to ‘witness’ yet another of the couple’s therapy sessions where Juliet and a reluctant Romeo go over their two decades plus of unhappy marriage. Some very clever devices enable both to reveal to the audience a deep secret. The dance is used to tremendous effect to strip the narrative of lies. Some of it is very funny. Juliet insists that Romeo dances with her comatose self when he encountered her in the tomb, in spite of him insisting that he didn’t.
She persists that it is her memory and thus he must dance. We think of all of those gushing strings and necrophiliac pas de deux as poor Romeo struggles with the dead weight of reality. Romeo for his part, illustrates the sheer animality of his lust when he first sees Juliet, having gate-crashed her uncle’s promotion party, his whole centre seemingly pulled towards her while the rest of him fails to catch up.
There are ‘Ah yes, I remember it well moments’: “It was a summer party… It was October… It was your uncle’s retirement… It was to celebrate his promotion,” and so on
Frank Sinatra, Simon and Garfunkel, and assorted pop music is used to underline the atmosphere as each dance strips bare the web of words spun over the facts. The shape of things to come is apparent as soon as they have sated their lust in the Paris apartment (“Hello darkness my old friend!”) Forced to Romeo he reveals that he loves chicken korma. She is a vegetarian. She loves Prokofiev(!). He likes pop. Neither can cook. Aside from lust, they are clearly doomed to separate lives and a huge bill for take away food.
By the end, Romeo is literally climbing the walls to escape. They finally reveal their secrets to each other and are put out of their misery by escape from the ill-starred marriage.
To say much else would be to spoil the delights of this fabulously detailed and totally engaging work. Rather appropriately seen the day after Valentine’s Day and one before the advent of the Year of the Dog, Lost Dog certainly found their way. Go see.
Juliet and Romeo: Long Life and Happy Marriage is next on at The Place, London, February 27-March 4. Visit www.theplace.org.uk for details and tickets.