Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet gets an anarchic, gender-bending new look in La Boite Indie’s final production for 2013, ><R&J (styled as the rather unwieldy ‘Greater than, less than Romeo ampersand Juliet’). We caught up with creative producer Matthew Higgins to find out more about this bold new interpretation of a classic by the Breadbeard Collective.

Hero Image by Al Caeiro 1Q: Matthew, how are preparations coming along for ><R&J?

A: We are having heaps of fun – it doesn’t feel like hard work. In the space of three hours we can go from dancing to Missy Elliott or Britney Spears to covering an Arcade Fire number to spitting Shakespeare, to fighting with dowel swords and then dealing with suicide. It’s a bit of a rollercoaster!
Q: You’ve got a cast of 10, live music, animation, digital projection…is this a challenging show for you as Creative Producer?
A: I’m really lucky to have a team that is made up of multi-skilled creatives, and we place a strong emphasis on democratic collaboration. For example, one cast member, Luke, is a filmmaker and animator, who acts, plays piano and who we’ve taught to dance.
The team is large and scheduling rehearsals around everyone’s busy schedules is a challenge given that everyone manages to continue to work and/or study. It’s a testament to their work ethic that we are pulling this project off. I guess, when you do such fulfilling and satisfying work like this it’s easy and rewarding to make it a priority – it consumes you.
Q: The actors swap roles a lot, which turns Romeo & Juliet into something of a queer love story at times…
A: I don’t know if we collectively set out to make a queer interpretation of Romeo and Juliet, however we did want to challenge the audiences’ interpretation of the work. We use gender-blind casting to explore the universal experiences of our two lovers as people. One of the rules of the show is that each performer plays both Romeo and Juliet at least once during the work. The result is that there are male performers playing Juliet coupled alongside male performers playing Romeo and vice versa.
Q: It’s a show ‘about’ Romeo & Juliet – has the exploration made you discover anything new about the play?
A: Seeing as this is the second time we have developed this work, I thought then that I knew it back to front. Coming at it again a few years later, the show has transformed. ><R&J takes the text, tears it up and makes it youthful, fast, loud and electrifying again. I guess Romeo and Juliet were causalities of circumstances, their environment and bad advice so in that sense I appreciate that I have power over my circumstances, to not be bound by the expectations of societal norms and to question often and to listen to myself. Oh, and that matters of the heart should be acted on…
><R&J, November 13-30, La Boite Theatre Company. www.laboite.com.au

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