Review: A Tender Thing – Full Circle Theatre at Visy Theatre, Brisbane Powerhouse

Images: Full Circle Theatre (supplied)

Of course I loved it. There’s very little not to love about an intelligent, heart-felt play, fine performances, and sensitive direction in a space that seems so absolutely tailor-made for this show. Brisbane Powerhouse’s Visy Theatre is an intimate, welcoming space where the audience is never far from the on-stage action and A Tender ThingBen Power‘s play (originally commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company) fits it like a glove.

Linda Davey directs Flloyd Kennedy and Michael Croome as the contemporary, 60-something, star-crossed lovers Romeo and Juliet who are living in blissful, loving retirement on a coast somewhere. Their love is, indeed, tender. The tides lap and wash the days as they pass – Scott Norris provides the soundscape design and Daniel Anderson lights the bedroom and surrounds of Romeo and Juliet’s beachside house – a beautiful design by Freddy Komp augmented by AV from mk2.

As Time – that old enemy – passes, their love, deeper than ever, is challenged by changing circumstances. I don’t wish to spoil the key event for audiences; it came as a shock to me and I think the play is more powerful when it works on audiences who are unsuspecting. I love plays that wrong-foot you so ingeniously …

If you think that updating Shakespeare is heretical, this production gives that old chestnut the lie. Romeo and Juliet’s autumnal love is as beautiful and tender as ever it was in its first flush. He is still the serious young man, she the playful girl that we ‘remember’ from other times. The crisis in their lives is as powerful, the issues as relevant now as they ever were – and, in the case of one in particular, perhaps more so.

Power’s play takes Shakespeare’s original text for Romeo and Juliet and blends it effortlessly with material from the sonnets. Lines are traded, roles reversed at times but it all makes wonderful sense. This admixutre refreshes and invigorates; I heard the meaning of lines anew, and the use of  sonnets – the cycle is usually understood to trace the journey of a love affair – provides a brilliant, salutary counterpoint to the Romeo and Juliet play. Thematically and structurally the original and the contemporary mesh – remix – in a most satisfying way.

A Tender Thing is a clever but never slick literary construction; it breaks new ground with its contemporary narrative, whilst staying true to character.

In this work the focus is quite properly upon the couple at the centre of the different take on a well-known tale. It’s in good hands with this production. Ms Davey’s paces the action superbly and uses the Visy stage so that, at times, the audience is almost within touching distance of the actors.

ATenderThingBoth Ms Kennedy and Mr Croome are very impressive: credible, vulnerable, heart-breakingly affecting – I swear you could hear pins drop. Can they speak the verse? You bet they can. Their delivery is clear, effortless, meaning-filled and … beautiful.

One small thing I yearned for in two very fine performances of this first-rate production was some eye contact in those moments when both characters were ‘beyond the fourth-wall,’ baring their souls in moments of intense privacy. Sharing with us, taking us into their confidence … communing in a way that soul-mates can, would be even more powerful it seems to me.

Both Flloyd Kennedy and Michael Croome are very impressive: credible, vulnerable, heart-breakingly affecting

But, on another note … welcome Full Circle Theatre to the Brisbane theatre community. I’m sure I am not alone in looking forward to more of their work which aims ‘to produce dramatically significant work that allows us to explore and return to ideas and thus see the familiar from a new perspective.’ Amen to that, say I.

Like Full Circle Theatre on Facebook or follow them on Twitter but, above all, support them by buying a ticket to A Tender Thing. You have until 18 May.