Juliet and Romeo, a show from English theatre company, Lost Dog Theatre, comes to Australia for Adelaide Festival next month. Solène Weinachter co-devised and stars in the show. We chat to her.
So, you’re coming to Australia for the show Juliet and Romeo at Adelaide Festival.
It’s for the play by Lost Dog, of which Ben Duke is the director that I am coming to Australia.
From what I understand, the play Juliet and Romeo, asks the question “how would their lives be if they hadn’t died?” Is that right?
Yes. The real version of Juliet and Romeo in the sense that is is the real life of a couple who love each other and stayed together and didn’t die 4 days after their first meeting.
And you’ve co-devised the script for this play. Does that mean you wrote the script together?
Officially, it’s Ben Duke the director of Lost Dog’s play and he asked me to join him. It’s his idea. It’s his baby. He had the idea of Juliet and Romeo who don’t die. And he had some ideas before I came onboard.
And then after that, we met up at the end of 2016 and started working on the show together.
What does “to devise” actually mean? Is it the writing of the script and fleshing out the characters? Is it a bit of everything?
So… the way we work is that a lot of things come from improvisation. For example, we put ourselves in a situation to look at movement and text. So sometimes it’s physical. Sometimes it’s theatrical. Sometimes it’s both together and you improvise, you improvise, you improvise with an idea and then you see what’s left.
When we say “co-devise” we are in the space together working on ideas together and we see what is left of this process together. The script did not exist beforehand. Our working method is based on improvisation and storytelling. This way the show, once it has crystallized, stays alive. It needs to stay fresh in the delivery. We consciously decided not to write the script, but to create the script together and let it exist between us and in our memory. And then, as we went along, through rehearsing, rehearsing, and rehearsing the scenes, the show was born.
So is there a written version now?
Yes, now it’s written. Once we had performed it several times, because the show changed many, many times. We did several different versions on stage and even during the show, we kept changing the show while we were performing it.
After a while, we had to write anyway because we started writing a version to present it in France. So we needed surtitles and then we started working with British Sign Language. We had to do the same thing every time. We wrote the script for the show after we created it. That was our working method.
That way you see what works and what doesn’t. After a few rehearsals, you had a better idea of what works best? It’s not something that’s fixed like this is the script, this is what you have to do, this is what you have to say and that’s it. It’s a bit more free?
Exactly, and also because it’s a work that mixes personal stories, maybe you can say autobiographical stories, but mixed with fiction. So it’s fiction and reality that meet and become a third thing. I don’t know what it will be called. Fake reality or real fiction, I don’t know.
Precisely, I wanted to ask whether you identify with the character of Juliet that you created.
That’s a good question. I’m not sure. It’s hard for me to know this, but I think she’s not too different to me. That’s for sure. She’s not far off. Juliet and I have very different lives. I don’t have the same life as her at all. But in her passion, she’s a very passionate person, Juliet is a very dedicated and loyal person. She immerses herself into what she does and I recognise parts of Juliet in myself in relation to that.
So it’s her character more than her life with which you identify.
Yes, that’s right.
And so you’ve been working with Ben for quite a long time because you worked together at the Scottish Dance Theatre too, right?
Yes, that’s right. I met him in 2010. He came to do a piece because Scottish Dance Theatre is a repertory dance company that invites choreographers to create pieces for the company. And that’s where we first worked together in a work called The Life and Times of Girl A.
Can we talk a little bit about how you, a French woman, are now in Scotland. How long have you been in Scotland? And why did you decide to move there?
Yes, it is true. That’s a great question. I’ve been in Scotland since 2007 and it’s true that it’s not really obvious [why I’d be here]. You see, when I was a little girl, I didn’t think “one day I’ll dream of being a dancer in Scotland” but I did my education in London at The Place dance school.
And when I finished third year, I auditioned for an apprenticeship with Scottish Dance Theatre. I actually went straight to Scotland after my education. I was offered a contract after the apprenticeship and I stayed with the company for five years. And then I left for eight years. And now I’m back with them this year. So I came back to Scotland and the crazy thing is that every time I do, I think, well, I’d love to go back to France, or work in France but I keep coming back to Scotland.
You can’t escape it!
My heart is here. I don’t know how to explain it. It’s a very special country, Scotland, it’s very, very special, the people are amazing here, it’s very different from France but I love it so much.
But do you often return to France?
No, almost never. I have never worked in France and I don’t see my family very often, and I haven’t seen my family since COVID.
Because crossing the borders has been difficult, but the borders are more open there now?
Before, it was quite stressful with the number of PCR tests and quarantining you had to do and as I didn’t have any work for a long time, because of COVID, now that work is starting again, I can’t take the time to go and see my family.
Yes, of course, but during COVID you stayed in Scotland?
No. I didn’t have a house for two and a half years because I was always on tour, you know always on the road and so I didn’t need to have a house. And so when COVID struck, I didn’t have a house and I was like “Oh my God what’s going to happen and where am I going to go?” So I went back to my family. So I was with my Mum during the first lockdown and then I bought a little van and I’ve been living in my van ever since.
And still now?
Then I went back to Scotland last year and got a flat in March 2021 because when work started again, it was a bit difficult to live in my van.
It must be very cold in the winter in a van too!
Oh yes, very cold.
We’re not used to cold like that in Australia! So you say you didn’t dream of being a dancer in Scotland as a child. But did you dream of being a dancer as a child?
Yes, I’ve always danced. All my life, since I was a little girl. I don’t know if I knew I wanted to do it for a living, but I knew I wanted to dance. Because dance, dance is really my home, you know. In fact, that’s why I didn’t have a house, because my house is dance.
So you trained in dance in London. Did you also study theatre?
No, I didn’t study theatre, that’s why it was incredible to meet Ben in 2010 because he started to open this door for me. I mean, I loved theatre before because when I was in France, my mum had an amateur company with the students of a high school . So, in fact, the theatre has always been there a bit, but not really professionally you know.
And Ben probably saw that in me and he started to open that door a bit. So I’ve been working with Ben since 2010 and I’m developing my theatre work. And here you see this solo I’m performing at the moment. It’s a Greek tragedy where I play all the characters. Antigone. I don’t know if you know it?
Yes, I know it. It’s been a while since I saw a performance of it, but I know it.
Yes, and it’s great, it’s a great character and all the characters in this tragedy are really beautiful and you see, it’s a lot more text. This is also an hour of dance theatre.
That must be tiring.
Yes, but it gives a lot back. It gives me a lot, a lot, a lot. And I also love dance and I have danced for some beautiful companies and choreographers. But I think that for me, dance is more a way of thinking about the world and seeing life and relationships with others. And that’s why I love mixing stories and dance. You see, I’m not a purist in that sense. So for me, it works well, it keeps the craft very much alive to mix theatre and dance.
Yes, it’s nice to be able to do both and it’s a bit more varied too. I don’t know if it’s less hard on the body to do theatre as well as dance or if it’s as hard on the body as if you were just dancing?
That’s a good question. Right now, you know, I’m not super young anymore. So I’m a little sore in the morning. My relationship to theatre is through the body. I like to put words in motion through the voice. I always use the body to be able to perform. So it’s still a fairly intense process physically, but it’s not the same intensity.
And it’s contemporary dance, right? As a child, did you study any particular style of dance, ballet or a bit of everything?
I started with ballet when I was little. And then, when I was 14, I started contemporary dance at the Conservatoire de Lyon. And from the age of 14 I danced every day. I also did general studies until I was 19. And at 19, I went to London. So for me, contemporary dance started at the age of 14 with an awareness of improvisation, composition, as well as anatomy and the history of dance. Contemporary dance is also a state of mind in the sense that it encompasses many other things.
So, let’s go back to the show Juliet and Romeo, since that’s why we’re talking today! You’ve been working with Lost Dogs since 2012, I think? What do you like about Lost Dogs Theatre?
I saw Lost Dogs’ work in 2004 and I’ve always loved Ben and Raquel’s work – Raquel Messeguer co-created Lost Dog with Ben Duke. I actually love the way they tell stories. I love stories, actually, but stories that are relevant and have had an impact on how we live our lives or how we view our position in the world or our relationships with others, our relationships of love, our relationships of friendship.
So it’s a work that’s rooted in human emotions actually. It’s the place of the human in all this. And then I love Ben’s imagination. I love his humour. Humour is a keystone to his work.
And I also love the way he works with people. He works with what he has in front of him and you know, he’s a bit like an explorer or an archaeologist. He knows how to dig out, he knows how to get the magic out of the person. I think the way that he looks at the people that he works with is very beautiful and I think that’s his magic wand.
So, it’s for all of those reasons that I really like Lost Dog’s work.
And you said that he creates plays, shows about human emotions. Juliet and Romeo, I think it’s about a couple who are having a little crisis.
So, that’s how it starts. Juliet and Romeo are not doing very well. They’re going to try a lot of things to try to put their troubled relationship back together. And they’ve been together for 20 years. They have a child. And so, they’re going to try a lot of things like psychotherapy and couple’s therapy, couple’s massage, ayahuasca. And they try a lot of things, but nothing works. So they decided to set up this evening with an audience, so that the audience could assist them in their process, to help their couple get better. That’s kind of the premise of the show.
But is the audience involved in the show?
We tell the audience not to worry, that they don’t have to do anything. You just have to listen and witness. We need this process to remind us why we love each other.
So it’s a very elegant way for the show to revisit classic scenes from the play and at the same time invent a whole other part of their relationship that wasn’t written by Shakespeare.
Actually, I was wondering if there were any links, apart from the fact that we know all the characters. But if there were links, flashbacks, shall we say to the original play?
Yes, there are some, and you’ll recognize them for sure. The play works very well if the audience doesn’t know the play, but the play works even better if you know a little bit about the play, but everybody has seen at least one version of Romeo and Juliet in their lives.
We study it in Australia in the year 10. Or at least, for me it was like that at the time. Maybe it’s changed? In France, do you study Shakespeare or just the French classics?
Molière. I don’t remember studying Romeo and Juliet in French. But I do remember studying Romeo and Juliet in English.
So in English class?
Yes, in English class. It’s weird learning Shakespeare when you can’t even really speak English and as a French person Shakespeare’s English is another foreign language!
For us in Australia, we struggle to understand it and it’s our own language. It’s like me if I read old French! Which audiences will enjoy Juliet and Romeo best?
Everyone from the first time you fell in love to your last breath.
But it’s still a show for adults? It’s not for children after all.
No, we’ve already done shows for teenagers. We’ve done shows that are accessible to mothers, so they were there with their babies. It was a show at 1 in the afternoon. Mums with a miniature version of themselves next to them. Even that really worked. It brought a whole other light, a whole other aspect to the show. When you do a show for the audience, the audience brings out certain aspects of the show. It was interesting.
What else do you want to say about Juliet and Romeo?
I don’t want to tell you too much because I don’t want to spoil it. We talked about Juliet and Romeo. As far as the story is concerned, it’s a show that questions the norms we are taught about love and living together. It’s an accessible show with depth. It’s well done. It’s worth spending an hour or so with us.
Is it more of a drama than a comedy?
It’s both in the sense that in all tragedies there is comedy but the weight is more on the comedy side anyway. We think that getting people to laugh is a good way to deal with less funny things in a heart-to-heart way.
Is it just Juliet and Romeo on stage or are there other characters?
No, it’s just the two of us because the story focuses on just the two of them. When we were creating the show, we wondered what happened to the other characters. But we didn’t choose to bring them along. Juliet and Romeo have a daughter together, a girl called Sophie. She’s not on stage but it’s clear she’s around.
So you’re on stage for over an hour in Juliet and Romeo. Is it difficult to be on stage for so long without a break?
It’s great. I’m 36 now and I started professionally when I was 21. And so to have pieces that are substantial that I can really invest my experience in is a great gift. It is great to be able to do that with this show.
What are the challenges of performing in a second language?
It’s very liberating to perform in a language that’s not my first language because there’s a lot of things I don’t have to worry about because people give me the benefit of the doubt. It means I’m labelled as a foreigner but it’s good in the sense that I have so much fun working with a language that’s not my own, I feel a bit of distance – I can have a lot more fun with letters, words, intonations, rhythms that I can’t do as easily with my mother tongue. English is not my language – I feel like I am wearing someone’s suit that I’m having a lot of fun with.
The Adelaide Festival shoes will be the Australian premiere of Juliet and Romeo. Is it going to be a tour after Adelaide or are you headed straight back?
No, I have to go back to Scotland afterwards.
Will this be your first time in Australia?
Yes, it will, but I hope it won’t be the last.
We thank Solène Weinachter for this interview.
KEY INFO FOR JULIET AND ROMEO
WHAT: Juliet and Romeo, a dance theatre show at the Adelaide Festival
Sat 05 Mar, 6:30pm
Sun 06 Mar, 1:00pm, 7:00pm
Mon 07 Mar, 7:30pm
Wed 09 Mar, 7:30pm
Thu 10 Mar, 7:30pm
Fri 11 Mar, 7:30pm
Sat 12 Mar, 1:00pm, 6:30pm
WHERE: Scott Theatre, University of Adelaide, Kintore Avenue, Adelaide
HOW: Buy your tickets via this link: https://www.adelaidefestival.com.au/events/juliet-romeo/
HOW MUCH: Ticket prices are as follows
A Reserve: $69, B Reserve: $59
Friends of the Festival
A Reserve: $59, B Reserve: $50
Concession (retired, health card holder, MEAA member)
A Reserve: $55, B Reserve : $47
Under 30 (ID required)
A Reserve: $35, B Reserve: $30
Full-time student (ID required)
A Reserve $30, B Reserve $25
Transaction fees apply.
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If you want to find out about other events with French and Francophone links happening in your city or online, see our article What’s on in February