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Kill Friar features swashbuckling ladies.
Kill Friar features swashbuckling ladies. Pha Lina

A radical reimagination of Romeo and Juliet

In their latest production – which premieres tonight – the Phnom Penh Players bring the bard to the masses. “[This is] Shakespeare for people that don’t like Shakespeare. Live theatre for people that don’t like live theatre,” says director Paul de Havilland.

Kill Friar: The Enduring Ballad of Juliet’s Revenge is a reimagination of one of Shakespeare’s most-loved plays. De Havilland premiered the original Romeo and Juliet here last year, and on the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, it returns in unusual form.

In Kill Friar, de Havilland holds true to the characters he knows, but with stronger artistic direction. “It’s fun. It’s ’70s grind-house action: killing, blood, swords, fistfights, knife fights,” the director explains.

The play is laced with music and lighting that dictates time, transporting the audience from the present – the part of the script written by de Havilland, where we learn of Juliet’s “true” fate – back to the original story in flashback.

“The play is basically a spin-off [and] sequel to Romeo and Juliet, but there’s a twist. Juliet is not dead,” says Deka Nine, who plays Juliet and is the first Cambodian lead in a Phnom Penh Players production.

“As she figures out that her death and Romeo’s was plotted from the beginning, she jumps onto the revenge bus.”

A novelist-turned-actress, Nine is skilled at spinning tales but doesn’t give away much about the play, noting the love story’s international appeal.

“Even if you cannot understand English, you can understand the story because of how people interact physically, the music, and the scene flow.” This version, she says, “makes it a badass play”.

The set is minimalist, with some ’70s costume inspiration, but de Havilland leaves it ambiguous. “I want the audience to imagine where they think it is. I want them to make up their own minds,” he says.

The time-switching narrative structure does not make for easy viewing, but the director says that was the plan. “It’s for a person that likes something that’s kind of cutting edge or avant-garde,” he says.

“My idea is that people walk in and we pick them up in an emotional way, drag them into the story and then they’re racing to keep up,” he says.

There’s also some gender bending. In this interpretation, Mercutio and Tybalt are performed by women, as women. Some interesting new relationships develop.

But as Juliet hunts for the man – or woman – who plotted her and Romeo’s deaths, it opens up the original play to reinterpretation.Is there more romance? “You’ll have to wait and see,” says the sparkly-eyed Nine.

Kill Friar: the Enduring Ballad of Juliet’s Revenge is on at the Department of Performing Arts Friday at 7pm and Saturday at 5pm and 8pm. Tickets ($10) are available at the Box Office, Buffalo Sister, and the Flicks 1.

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