Assuming the roles of Ringmaster Veronique Van Direndirensten III (Twiner) and her downtrodden assistant, Stephanie Sausage (Fish), the pair first takes the audience to the Cirque du Cirque du Spectakkular. The promotional material for the show warns potential audience members that "(their) circus skills are crap", and they're right, they are! But that's where some of the visual humour arises from, and in any event, who would come to a show called Not Romeo and Juliet expecting top notch circus acts, right?
Kimberley Twiner as Ringmaster Veronique Van Direndirensten III
What we get instead is a series of circus acts in which the physical comedy is evident: the strong woman, the 'mongrel', and the 'aerial silks' routine.
Probably the strongest visual comedy source is Fish's priceless facial expressions. She has the most mobile of faces and can go from 'deer in the headlights' to sweet smile to raging red-faced anger in the blink of an eye, in a way that is hilarious to watch. Think Harpo Marx meets Michael Crawford (in Some Mothers Do 'ave Em), and you'll get the idea.
Each woman sported lateral lisps - Fish, in particular, had a lisp that Daffy Duck would be proud of. So having a show name like 'Stephanie Sausage' makes things even more ridiculous.
How do they get from circus to Shakespeare? Stephanie Sausage has a passion for the Bard and is keen to incorporate readings from his works into the circus performances. Dismissed as a silly idea by the unlikeable Veronique, Stephanie finally snaps. 'Circus', she says, 'is a sport with pretty lights and horrible costumes'. And with that, she announces she is leaving the circus and never coming back.
Veronique, desperate to keep Stephanie from leaving, throws herself on Stephanie's mercy and says she will do anything to get her to stay. 'Anything?' queries Stephanie. And with that one word, the balance of power shifts. Suddenly Stephanie is holding the figurative whip handle.
Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou, Romeo? A reading from Romeo and Juliet.
And that is how they come to be reading Shakespeare together. Veronique soon realises she likes Shakespeare more than she thought she would, as long as they steer away from the tragic bits.
The 'balcony scene' from Romeo and Juliet
Not Romeo & Juliet is ultimately a sweet comedy with underlying themes of love and acceptance triumphing over power and repression. It's an entertaining 50 minutes that should have wide appeal; in fact, after the show, Twiner encouraged those present to bring young audience members along to future shows. It's feel-good farce at its best.
One comment I will make is that these performers deserve a better venue than they had when I attended. There were about 30 of us crammed into a room that would have comfortably seated 20. Stuck in the back row, to the far right, it was difficult to see some parts of the performance, and it was frustrating. I'm not sure how the rooms are allocated, but please Fringe organisers, find them a bigger room!
Not Romeo and Julietplays at the Fringe Hub: Arts House - Parlour Room, 521 Queensberry St, North Melbourne until Saturday 29th September (no show on Monday 24th September).
Tickets are $30. Note sessions are selling out - the next available tickets are for Tuesday 25th September. I strongly advise you secure your tickets online: click here to buy your tickets.
The images in this article were taken by the writer.