Review: Romeo is Not the Only Fruit22 November 2017
It is a truth universally acknowledged that lesbians do not get a happy ending.
At least, that’s how it would seem when regarding the dozens of dead women-loving-women that litter plot-lines throughout history. We never quite make it to the horse and carriage ride into the sunset. And boy, the last few months of politics have reminded me that we fight against all odds to get that in reality as well.
So, it was more than just refreshing to watch Jean Tong’s Romeo is Not the Only Fruit. It was heartwarming, liberating, unifying and relatable. To watch something that felt like it was written for me as an audience, and to listen to songs and dialogue spoken in a language familiar to any queer woman, made me feel something I often don’t when I watch a lot of media: included. With a storyline built on ridiculing the “dead lesbian” trope, it is cathartic to stare our oppression in the face, and laugh at it. Somehow, Tong has managed to make the show feel like one massive inside joke, as well as broadly appealing. So, basically, she’s my new hero.
Narrated by a chorus of dead lesbians, the plot follows Juliet (Margot Tanjutco) and Darcy (Louisa Wall) as they fall in love. And as with many lesbian love stories, we begin in the closet – in Juliet’s case anyway. Denial is a many faced monster, but Juliet’s stubborn blindness to see what is so obvious in retrospect is familiar to many. Tong deals with the construct of compulsory homosexuality skilfully: for a lot of us, often being gay isn’t an option until suddenly it is the only one. Margot Tanjutco plays that process of realisation perfectly. As queer women, we do not often recognise attraction for what it truly is; and we see this in Juliet as she pursues Darcy without quite understanding why.
Darcy, on the other-hand, has clearly been here before – as we can see by the memorial portraits of her exes in her room. Louisa Wall is hilariously awkward and dorky, and lights up the stage with her comic ability. We watch as she struggles with falling for Juliet, no doubt haunted by the fate of her previous lovers. But inevitably, as is so often the case – in my experiences anyway – the two stumble into each other’s arms after attending a gay bar together. The gay bar is a crucial moment in many people’s coming out stories: whether you’ve realised before you enter, or after you leave covered in glitter, there’s comfort to be gleaned from solidarity and community. I would go so far as to say it is a fundamental part of any gay character arch, mine included.
As Juliet and Darcy’s love story is heeded, hindered, and helped by the Dead Lesbian chorus, we also see the trials of navigating an interracial relationship, as well as a same-sex one. Tong brilliantly turns racism on its head, with the inversion of Western race relations. By cleverly poking fun at ingrained stereotypes, she reveals the inherent harm in them (literally). The characterisation of Juliet’s mother (played to sadistic perfection by Sasha Chong) and grandmother (played to equally oblivious perfection by Nisha Joseph) speaks to an audience of its own: one of which I am not part of, but have merely been invited to join for the evening. As noted, that is part of the genius of Tong – she has demonstrated an ability to play on community and cultural specificities without excluding anyone who may not relate.
The Dead Lesbian chorus is ultimately the glue that holds this love story together, and they shine accordingly. Overall, the singing began on shaky grounds but strengthened in leaps and bounds over the course of the show, with Pallavi Waghmode standing out in particular. With a script that deft and witty, it would be hard to be disappointed; but all of the actors surpassed any glimpse of mediocrity as they carry the show to its full potential. The use of a minimalist background and oversized, exaggerated props accentuated the humour without overpowering it, letting the script take centre stage. The songs managed to be narratively important, hilarious, and generally well-sung; and I’m not a dancer, but the sequins in the final number impressed me greatly. As did the detachable clothes – what more can a girl ask for?
Perhaps I’m biased. Rent has always been a favourite of mine, as has Wicked (which I strongly believe has gay undertones – hello?? Elphaba and Glinda are clearly lesbians). I love musicals, and I love lesbians. I love diverse casts, I love comedy, I love “pretty gay” songs. But, I don’t think I am mistaken. I think it can be a truth now universally acknowledged that Romeo is Not the Only Fruit is fucking brilliant.