HONG KONG – Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet was always a tragic tale of teen romance gone awry. But what if they didn’t die, and the two of them grew up to live happily ever after? That’s the hypothetical situation dance company Lost Dog poses in their work Juliet and Romeo, as they imagine the two lovers in middle age, tackling our cultural obsession with youth and what happens when it fades.
Directed by Ben Duke, and starring Kip Johnson and Solène Weinachter, Juliet and Romeo is a comedy-dance-confessional performance, where Juliet and Romeo attempt to confront their mid-life crisis. Through a performance about themselves (against their therapist’s advice), the two rise up and counter the ever rising memories of their teenage selves, and the constant pressure to live up to their status as the poster couple for romantic love.
Featuring only two chairs, two doors and a ladder, Juliet and Romeo enter the space and greet us, before requesting something unusual – to heckle them. As they seat themselves comfortably on the chairs, Juliet, with a heavy French accent, shares more about Romeo and his quirks. It is a no-holds barred confessional, as she shares about their marriage struggles after being together for 20 years. In a way, Juliet and Romeo becomes a form of alternative therapy for the couple, where they can be completely honest with each other, and with us.
As the lights turn on, it feels like all truth is revealed, as we look around and see each other, illuminated with no where to hide. Honesty is the best policy here, as they speak about separating, yet still teasing of their daughter Sophie.
Romeo deliberately takes off his shoes and socks, preparing to perform, as he takes a deep breath. Juliet on the other hand, is a hopeless romantic, and seems lost in her own thoughts and fantasies. What comes next is the ultimate test of their relationships – 10 questions to measure their faith in each other. In Juliet’s memories, she sees what she wants to see or feel, almost floating, while Romeo manoeuvres her lifeless body.
We wonder what they’ve lost along the way, as we watch her body move to the ups and downs of ‘The Sound of Silence’. Yet the way they move seems to make sense only to them, a secret language they’ve developed over the years, as they convey to us the seriousness of losing so much time, wondering and regretting if they’ve lived life to the best.
They try again, this time to ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’ as the backing track, and it seems they’re willing to try again, to overcome the weight of sadness as they put things in perspective. They speak vividly of being uninvited to the party with canapés and fairy lights, mention a Darth Vader costume. Juliet and Romeo begin humping dramatically and exaggeratedly to the tune, engaging the audience and pulling us into their world.
Romeo seemingly levitates, gliding closer towards her, and they begin to exchange more passive-aggressive interactions. But at the end of it, they still find each other, some semblance of love remaining. ‘Romeo O Romeo’, Juliet says, and there is a sudden breakdown in communication. He finally answers her 10 questions, and we begin to realise that there is something deeper connecting them beyond what they say – it’s in the body.
The relationship between Juliet and Romeo is not based on childish romance or teen fantasy, but a tough, complex one built up over years of experiences that keeps them holding on to each other, figuratively and literally. It is an unusual but poignant performance filled with powerful moments, and we think about how every relationships needs time and space. No one is continually happy, and there will be times one finds one’s self in need to solitude, and even loneliness. And at the end of it, if one is willing to stay, hope is what remains, and the rest is history.
Juliet and Romeo ran from 15th to 19th February 2023 at Hong Kong City Hall. More information available here
The 2023 Hong Kong Arts Festival ran from 17th February to 19th March 2023. Full programme available here
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