O Romeo, Romeo…who is this lady?
Image: Pallavi Waghmode, Nisha Joseph, Louisa Wall, Sasha Chong, Margot Tanjutco. Photo (c) Bede McKenna.
After seeing this show, the Verona of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet will never be seen in quite the same way again. But fear not Shakespeare purists, and lovers of theatrical purity, because Romeo Is Not The Only Fruit’s world premiere for the Poppy Seed Theatre Festival is quite possibly the most fun musical theatre show of the year. It is seriously more fun than binge-watching the entire six seasons of The L Word, and seeing the very best of seasoned comedians like Hannah Gadsby, Tig Notaro, DeAnne Smith,Magda Szubankski, Mae Martin, and most importantly Margaret Cho, in an all-singing, all-dancing extravaganza – only all together, and at the same time.
Don’t recognise any of these iconic lesbian, queer TV performers, or award-winning comedians? Don’t fancy musical theatre? Hate people messing with the cherished bard? None of that matters because this show guarantees laughs for everybody. What Romeo Is Not The Only Fruit does so exceptionally is to create unsubtle jibes that target the ludicrous ways in which ‘we’ – as consumers of popular culture, and consequently, white people’s culturally privileged positions in the media – continue to vacuum up the relentless stream of heterosexual and homogenised TV and movie narratives, despite the actual, multicultural societies we live in being radically different. Romeo Is Not The Only Fruit is like a big theatrical duh to all the white, non-queer, status quo representations; or, as one of their songs explicitly states; a Fuck You, with the performer’s fingers pointed directly towards the audience in seriously funny flipping the bird gesture to all those tragic lesbian narratives that end up the same the predictable way. Will she be strangled, suffocated, or sacrificed?
The genius of Jean Tong’s writing and direction is to situate this specific intersectional (the intersection of oppression, domination or discrimination), lesbian, musical-re-visioning within the readily identifiable structure of Shakespeare’s tragic romance, Romeo and Juliet. And on this front the transformation is precise and hits every mark with note-perfect pitch.
Tong, and musical composer James Gales drag the musical form right into the 'NOW darling,' with infectious lesbian RomCom laments, duets, and full-pelt chorus numbers that show off this all female cast’s brilliant performance skills. Special mentions go to Nisha Joseph, Sasha Chong and Louisa Wall. Their musical delivery of sparkling and witty songs whipped the senses with overflowing Sassy Gay Friend irony and lesbian genre-busting exuberance that had me in fits of hysteria. You could, for example compare Tong’s lyrics to modern day Dorothy Parker; the strength of her satirical powers on display in Romeo Is Not The Only Fruit are truly first class. There are riffs on Beyonce’s choreography, Taylor Swift’s epic dramas, Orange Is The New Black's plot driven death drive, Hollywood movie scripts re-imagined as girl meets girl, and sapphic representations of every colour, shape and kind. The show traverses each stage of a cleverly curated lesbian coming-out story – whilst commenting on hilarious LGBTIQ narratives – in the style of a Kate McKinnon lead Saturday Night Live Lesbian Speed Dating sketch. We are at one point encouraged to yell the word 'VAGINA' during a faux performance art trilogy that is filled with feminist performance art references to Carolee Schneemann, Annie Sprinkle and Marina Abramovic.
The funniest ingredient are the mad, and diva inspired characters of the superbly cast Dead Lesbian Chorus. A Hindu goddess, Durga – and nagging, marriage obsessed ‘Mummy G’ mixes it up with an absurdly perfectionist stereotypical ‘Asian Mom’ and other suitably hand-wringing family members who push the questioning young Juliet to do the right, heteronormative thing: settle down and get married to a man. But in a deft twist of clever hetero-erasure, the chorus both interfere with, and provide opportunities for Margot Tanjutco’s suitably doe-eyed Juliet to explore her true love lust with a tall, white, strapping, denim-overall-wearing character called Darcy. It’s Darcy who provides the dramatic counterpoint. Props, sets and stagecraft were superbly designed and manipulated. The musical interludes were jam packed with syrupy 80’s synths and syncopated 30's cabaret rhythms that were both blingy and zingy. The lighting design was masterfully divergent. We all should see more of this kind of theatre. It’s one of the best kinds there is.
Rating 4 ½ stars out of 5
Romeo Is Not The Only Fruit by Jean Tong
Playwright, director and lyricist: Jean Tong
Composer and sound designer :James Gales
Musical direction and composition support: Will Hannagan
Set and costume Designer:James Lew
Stage manager:Ayu Maylinda
Production manager:Miguel Lontoc
Directorial support:Petra Kalive and Bridget Balodis
Performers: Sasha Chong, Nisha Joseph,Margot Tanjutco, Pallavi Waghmode and Louisa Wall
Producer, publicity and marketing: Stephanie Bowie Liew
Poppy Seed Theatre Festival
The Butterfly Club
First published on
What the stars mean?
- Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
- Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
- Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
- Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
- Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
- Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
- Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
- One star: Awful, to be avoided
- Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level