Ryan North’s hilarious choose-your-own-adventure-style version of Hamlet, To Be Or Not To Be, first published in 2013, proved so successful that in 2016 Romeo and/or Juliet followed. Beaumont Composite High School takes North’s work as inspiration for their interactive play, and the result is an entertaining hour of Shakespearean silliness. Written by the cast and crew, the play is overseen by two narrators who invite us, at certain moments in the show, to applaud for the choice we want, whether that’s which actor should play Romeo or which balcony he should climb. The different choices mean we can either follow Shakespeare’s plot or go down a path where there could be anything from zombies to an attempt to steal a jewellery box, backed by the Mission Impossible theme.
An entertaining hour of Shakespearean silliness
The simple stylistic choices of the performance, from a set comprised of black boxes used to create everything from a balcony to Friar Lawrence’s altar, to red shirts for the Capulets and blue shirts for the Montagues, mean that the story and the interactions between the ensemble are the main focus of the piece. The fourteen-strong entourage work well together; even when the focus is on certain characters, the actors in the background are always engaged, whether partying at the Capulet mansion or as a congregation in the Friar’s church. Every member of the ensemble was given a chance to shine, from Nyasha Chingono as Benvolio telling an aggressively flirtatious Tybalt (Jonah Palamattam) ‘time’s up’, to Liam Shute as the original Romeo complaining, "I don’t like being sad, it makes me sad". I mention the original Romeo, because one of the first choices we are asked to make was which actor we would rather have as Romeo, from the nerdy and awkward, played by Jeremiah Phillips, to the self-proclaimed walking stereotype of a lesbian, played by Ajax Elder. The prospective Romeos were asked to describe themselves in three words, what their perfect first date would be, and why Juliet should choose them. This section, while amusing, felt a bit overlong, as one after another the Romeos were rejected by Hannah Carr’s confident and self-assured Juliet, but when a Romeo was chosen and the play continued, the pacing improved. Although events did come to an abrupt halt when Romeo was killed during the balcony scene, it was here the concept of three lives was introduced; the main characters each have three lives, and so we should make our choices in future carefully or it would be Game Over and the show would end.
Although most of the show’s humour derived from the outcome of such poor choices, like Romeo having to try and convince Lord and Lady Capulet that he was actually his own twin, Romaine Lettuce, the ensemble also had fun in using lines from Shakespeare’s text in a new context, or referring to other plays. Although this did sometimes result in obvious jokes, the charm of the performers and the clear enjoyment they were having meant that, for the most part, they pulled them off. If you like your comedies more than your tragedies, and you want some audience interaction that is fun rather than intimidating, I would highly recommend this show.