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Shakespearean remix tugs at heartstrings, but the script fails to impress

WRITER Ben Power calls it a "remix". Shakespeare's words (not all of them from Romeo and Juliet) re-ordered to fit an original play that imagines what might have happened had the star-crossed lovers grown old together.

That's the line we're fed. The truth is, A Tender Thing could be about any elderly couple facing the prospect of a life without one another – it's just got fancy language to help it along. And dressing up an otherwise contemporised setting with the work of the Bard does not for a Shakespearean adaptation make.

Sweet one moment and harrowing the next, this is hard work. That Power has managed to create something vaguely coherent out of what is, essentially, a Frankenstein approach to theatre-making is an achievement in itself. And it's a good thing that Owen Roe (Romeo) and Olwen Fouere (Juliet) take it all so seriously.

The set is marvellous. Trapped inside a crooked, broken picture frame (see what they did there?), Romeo and Juliet's bedroom is old-fashioned yet pretty, with a very special wardrobe resting in the corner. But it's all just decoration.

The only real insight into how Romeo and Juliet are said to have spent their lives together is a short exchange that tells us they lost a child.


Other than that, they might as well be back at the beginning, only this time instead of warring families it is an illness that threatens to tear apart the greatest love of all. This is where A Tender Thing hurts the most. A scene where Romeo bathes his sick wife in the bathroom is particularly upsetting. Soon, the stifling language is no longer the issue, but instead, how this play will go about handling the subject of euthanasia.

It's an interesting piece of work, but it has its faults. Namely, the script and Selina Cartmell's direction (heavy-handed, especially where the soundtrack is concerned). Roe and Fouere are perfect together, and the latter doesn't hold back in her portrayal of a dying woman who wishes to end things on her own terms. But the ridiculous, poetic ramblings are so jarring, and its characters so one-dimensional (Romeo and Juliet are madly in love . . . that's it), that it makes it difficult to fully appreciate the end product. Even if it tugs at the heartstrings like no other play I've come across.


Running until February 15