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A spin on "Romeo and Juliet" sees the lovers meet in the Wild West

In the Phnom Penh Players’ latest theatre offering, the classic Shakespearean story of Romeo and Juliet gets a spaghetti Western makeover.

Set in the Wild West during the 1880s, the normally four-hour play has been cut down to two and, performed by a modest cast of 16, is a “more focused and intense” retelling of the story, said director Paul de Havilland.

“We have about 50 per cent of the original play left and have taken out a lot of characters,” he said.

Cece Marshall, who plays Juliet in the play, said aside from the Western setting the play was also darker than other interpretations, and unlike most performances, her character of Juliet gets the most stage time.

“My favourite thing about Juliet, as I’m playing her, is how strong-willed and independent she is . . . [compared to] other Juliets that have been played in the past,” said Marshall.

Having grown up in the west of the US watching Western films and attending rodeos as a child, Marshall was keen to be a part of de Havilland’s adaptation, Romeo y Juliet.

Another big variation is that Tybalt and Mercutio, characters traditionally played by men, have been changed into female roles in de Havilland’s version of the classic romantic tragedy.

De Havilland said the decision had nothing to do with a lack of male actors, it was “absolutely intentional”.

At first, nobody else supported the decision to change the gender of the characters, and de Havilland himself said that he would never have thought Tybalt could have been played by a woman.

“It was about taking risks and not being safe,” he said.

Marshall said the decision to change the gender of Tybalt and Mercutio was an ironic twist, considering how the women in Shakespeare’s plays used to be played by men.

She was also pleased to see more opportunities for women in theatre.

“Women are always asking for more roles in plays, so I’m really happy that there were more roles for women in this one.”

French colonial villa the Mansion will serve as the backdrop to the performance, providing the character of Juliet with a proper balcony for the famous scene where she and Romeo declare their love for each other.

The performance will be accompanied by a band playing Western-inspired pieces and characters will be decked out in Western costumes.

“I’m wearing a gorgeous red, almost like a flamenco-style skirt with cowboy boots and an ivory white lace top,” said Marshall.

“We hope it works,” said de Havilland, “The audience will be the best judge of that.”

Performances of Romeo y Juliet are on April 24 and 25, and May 1 and 2. Tickets are $10 and are available from The Laneway, The Willow, Garden Cafe, Cafe Yejj and FCC.

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