Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is one of the most iconic tragedies of all time. If you’re unfamiliar with this tale of woe – plot spoiler – they die in the end. But Giles Gartrell-Mills, the writer behind Mercutio and The Prince of Cats, isn’t interested in the star-crossed lover’s plight. Instead the play focuses on Mercutio (Romeo’s best friend) and Tybalt (Juliet’s cousin) after they die. However, in Gartrell-Mills’ version, they aren’t dead, instead they’re just injured and confined to a locked room underneath the church with Friar Lawrence and Juliet’s Nurse to care for them.
Directed by Bishanyia Vincent, Mercutio and The Prince of Cats centres around the theory that our dreams are how we process and learn. Plagued by anger and hate, both Mercutio (Abe Mitchell) and Tybalt (Jack Angwin) have a great many issues to work through, issues Friar Lawrence (Danielle King) attempts to hasten with “herbal remedies” and confession. These dream sequences feel disjointed and are borderline comical at first, although as the play progresses the change in the characters mindset is discernible through these scenes.
The play aligns itself to the 1996 Baz Luhrmann adaptation, using the soundtrack as the audience enters the theatre and concluding with Juliet shooting herself. As this version is at the forefront of your mind, it is challenging to accept Amanda McGregor as Juliet’s Nurse. This is not as a result of her acting ability, which is very good, but due to her young age. It is difficult to believe the Nurse when she comments she knew both the men as young boys and a moment of playful affection between her and Mercutio, an indication of their history together, comes across as flirtatious rather than nurturing.
A highlight is the dynamic created between the two leads. Their banter and chemistry is, at times, laugh out loud funny and provides some of the best moments in the play. It feels inevitable that Mercutio and Tybalt will become friends by the plays end but the actual moment where this occurs feels rushed and glossed over. One minute they’re still bickering, the next they’re friends and this acceleration in their progress left me feeling robbed of a moment I’d been anticipating ever since the lights went up.
The ending which touches on Luhrmann’s film is clever and made me realise that, despite knowing how the tragedy concludes, I had been subconsciously hoping that this time it would be different, perhaps this time Romeo and Juliet wouldn’t die. The characters, shocked and devastated, returned to where they had been when the play opened – Friar Lawrence and Nurse in the medicine room and Mercutio and Tybalt back in their beds. Then suddenly Mercutio awakens with a jolt, just as he did at the beginning, and the play ends. I am unsure as to the intention here. Is the inference that it was all a dream? Is it some form of purgatory / Groundhog Day where the characters are destined to repeat the same days over and over until they work through their issues with enough time to save Romeo and Juliet? This is never fully explained.
Mercutio and The Prince of Cats is entertaining and a clever adaptation to a well-known classic tale.
TWO AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Mercutio and The Prince of Cats runs until 30 November at the Old 505 Theatre in Sydney. For more information and to book check out the website.
The reviewer attended on 21st November.