I am in the delightful position right now of playing one of Shakespeare’s great roles, the nurse in Romeo & Juliet. Strictly speaking, I’m probably too old for her. After all, she had a baby the same age as Juliet, just under fourteen years ago, and my child-bearing years ended quite some time before that.
But that’s the beauty of theatre, it’s all about illusion, perception, and expectation. I make no effort to create the illusion that I am younger than I am (apart from using a very expensive foundation that was a birthday gift!): I aim to create the illusion that I work for the Capulet family as Juliet’s chief care-giver, and trust that the audience will perceive me as such. Then it becomes imperative to exceed their expectations.
The great joy of being able to speak Shakespeare’s language is complemented by the adventure of working with a very exciting young company. Timothy Wynn and Cassandra Ramsey have created a genuinely local, community-based theatre which is deeply professional at its heart. For three years they have engaged a mixture of old and young, experienced and untrained theatre artists to present a range of classic and contemporary texts to the Ipswich community. THAT Production Company is a brave adventure, a generous extension to the local cultural scene, driven by its directors’ passion to provide powerfully entertaining theatre that is relevant and inspiring to its participants as well as to its audiences.
For Romeo + Juliet we have a cast of fourteen performers, aged 16 to I’m Not Telling You, but I can assure you I am the oldest. Some have a lot of onstage experience, some have very little. Some bring a wealth of experience with Shakespeare, others are from the musical theatre scene. Some are still at school, others are relatively recent graduates from school or college. Our director Tim and producer Cassie have worked tirelessly to treat us all AS professional artists – in other words, as artists who profess THEATRE. (I know there is a separate debate currently in the Queensland theatre community about what constitutes ‘professional’ theatre, and I’m not going to elaborate on that here).
We had a shaky start to our season at Studio 188. It was a shock to my aged system to discover that this newly renovated church building, custom designed as a studio theatre, owned and managed by the Ipswich Civic Centre, has no bathroom facilities for the artists who work there. The cost of hiring the venue – even for THAT Production Company, which has been named “Company in residence at the Studio 188″ is so prohibitive that we simply could not afford to move in until the last moment. We also had more than our fair share of illness and unrelated crises among the company members during the rehearsal period, but hey – that’s how it goes.
We are now entering our second, and final week of performances. From tonight (6th May) until Saturday 10th May, at 7.30pm we will share our version, and Tim’s vision, of this well-loved play. The venue only seats 48, so it’s advisable to book your tickets in advance.
You may have seen it before. You may have studied it at school. You may even have performed in it. Whatever your experience of the story of these “star-crossed lovers”, I can assure you there is always something new to discover. That’s the magic of Shakespeare’s rich text, and the beauty of live performance.