Rosaline review

Theatre
3 out of 5 stars
Rosaline 2019 Kings Cross Theatre supplied
Photograph: Marnya Rothe

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

Shakespeare's most enduring romance gets a rethink in this new play

If you know your Shakespeare – or your Baz Luhrmann – you know that the moment Romeo met Juliet changed everything. It was all ‘did my heart love till now?’ and making eyes through a fishtank while Des’ree sang ‘Kissing You’ in the background. It was a shock of love, a jolt of emotion. It’s iconic. 

But wasn’t Romeo supposed to be all hung up on Rosaline?

With that first meeting, Juliet is only the only girl in Romeo’s life. The one before her, the one that had him moping and mooning, is all but forgotten. Enter Australian playwright (and head of education at Bell Shakespeare) Joanna Erskine and her play, simply and directly titled Rosaline. What happened to the girl left behind, it asks? What was she doing while those star cross’d lovers married and fought and died? 

Turns out, things weren’t going so well. Rosaline (Aanisa Vylet) might have been cautious about going to the next level with Romeo (Alex Beauman), but she loved the boy – much to the dismay of her loyal friend Peter (Jeremy Campese), who’s carrying the biggest metaphorical torch in the world for Rosie. 

But Rosaline has bigger problems. Sequestered in her room (everyone enters by window – she’s either Rapunzel or Clarissa Darling), Rosaline films herself and her guests near-constantly, because she’s been having trouble with her memory. That trouble, much like her isolation, has likely been orchestrated by her brother, Tybalt, or the good friar (David Lynch) that we know best for helping out lovestruck Romeo in the other play.

Erskine clearly wants to give voice to a voiceless character in the Shakespearean canon, and she gives Rosaline a vibrancy and will she’s denied in the Bard’s original text (the ending is particularly cathartic in this way). Her play – which feels mostly restrained in its approach – is contemporary, dark and in close conversation with Romeo and Juliet; you’ll enjoy it most if you know the text and its plot milestones well. 

In the hands of director Sophie Kelly, Rosaline has a haunted, hemmed-in feel – even when its lead actor tries to break free of her story, she struggles. She’s been drugged, she’s treated like an object, and she wants to remember who she was before the world decided that she had ‘bloomed’ into said object. If she’s ever given the chance.

Erskine’s dialogue is prickly and truncated, and it hangs uncomfortably in the actor’s mouths, though Campese’s Peter finds a rhythm to his lines that coaxes the others along when they share a stage. Otherwise, it gives the majority of conversations an artificial sheen, and that great howl of feeling you might be waiting for never truly comes. But there’s something there – you can feel it hanging there in the fringes and in intent. It’s just not fully realised.

But there is one moment that transcends, and it’s the first and strongest image of the entire play. As we open, Rosaline is alone in her room. In Romeo’s t-shirt and a pair of shorts, she’s mugging for her video camera as the famous opener of Robyn’s ‘Dancing on My Own’ spills out over us. Rosaline starts to dance, and as the song gets bigger, so do her movements. She’s singing along, lost in the moment: finally her own person, finally in her own world.

By: Cassie Tongue

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