A radical reimagination of Romeo and Juliet

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.

MOST VIEWED

  • Diplomatic passports issued to foreigners to be annulled

    The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation will move to annul diplomatic passports issued to those not born in Cambodia. Analysts say the move may be in relation to reports that former Thai prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra used a Cambodian passport to register as

  • The hairy little heroes saving many lives in rural Cambodia

    IN RURAL Siem Reap province, rats dare to tread where no person will, as these hairy little heroes place their lives on the line each day for the good of the local community. The rodents are the most important members of a special team, leading

  • Hun Sen warns Irish MP of EBA ‘mistake’

    Prime Minister Hun Sen on Saturday told former Irish premier Enda Kenny, still a member of the EU nation’s parliament, that the 28-nation bloc should not make a “third mistake” regarding Cambodia by using the preferential Everything But Arms (EBA) agreement to “take 16 million

  • PM warns EU and opposition on 34th anniversary of his rule

    HUN Sen reached the milestone of 34 years as Cambodian prime minister on Monday and used the groundbreaking ceremony for a new ring road around Phnom Penh to tell the international community that putting sanctions on the Kingdom meant killing the opposition. “Please don’t forget