You’re probably well aware of Brisbane Festival’s incredible music program. But you may not be as across the festival’s equally strong theatre program.
Next month, the city-wide festival will host a range of brilliant productions… and there’s perhaps none we’re more excited for than Jean Tong’s Romeo Is Not The Only Fruit.
Ahead of next month’s Brisbane Festival, we caught up with playwright Jean Tong to chat about her newest show Romeo Is Not The Only Fruit.
HAPPY: Hey Jean, how are things? What are you up to at the moment?
JEAN: Things are hectic – I’m currently producing a drag show for Melbourne Fringe Festival, writing a new play for my Masters in Writing for Performance at the Victorian College of the Arts, finishing up another play, dramaturging two shows, and working on the album for Romeo Is Not The Only Fruit as well as working with a film producer on a potential web series adaptation! Send help.
HAPPY: First things first, this title is amazing. Do we have you to thank for that?
JEAN: I claim full credit for the title, because I distinctly remember no one on the original development liking or understanding it, but no one could come up with anything better so it stuck.
HAPPY: Can you talk us through how Romeo Is Not The Only Fruit was conceived?
JEAN: The first ever original development of this show was co-created with Margot Tanjutco through DisColourNation, a student theatre collective, and was supported by The University of Melbourne TheatreBoard and UMSU Creative Arts Department. The initial development was co-written with current cast member Margot Tanjutco, and that version of the show used existing music with parodied lyrics.
To turn it into the fully original cult lesbian musical I could see it becoming, I went through an 8-week writing/musical improvisational extravaganza with composer James Gales, and we were supported by pop artist Will Hannagan. We premiered the show at Poppy Seed Theatre Festival in 2017, and it was incredibly well received.
After another round of development getting the show snazzier, we returned in 2018 to the Melbourne International Comedy Festival at the Malthouse Theatre, and now we’re just trying to take over the world very slowly.
HAPPY: There’s a few other Shakespearean romances out there – what drew you to Romeo & Juliet?
JEAN: There’s just nothing quite like stealing something so deeply, famously heterosexual and rooted in Shakespeare’s legacy — and all its accompanying queer/POC/female representation problems — and making it a big old romp for the queer community. Specifically, making it as joyous a 75-minute time as we could for queer women of colour. On a technical level, the falling in love and then tragically dying plot was also a useful structure to work with as we critiqued the ‘Bury Your Gays’ trope through the show.
HAPPY: Tell me about this “Chorus of Incompetent Dead Lesbian.” My imagination is running wild.
JEAN: Our Chorus of Incompetent Dead Lesbians represent the spirit of fictional queer female characters who’ve all died for the sake of queer tragedy (in pursuit of ‘narrative drama’).
They’re trying to get in the way of Juliet and Darcy’s epic romance, because if the lovebirds manage to get together, they’re going to succumb to the same thing that killed off the Chorus: being arrogant enough to believe that queer characters are allowed to have a happy ending. Representation matters.
Stories help us understanding who we are and where we’re said to belong – the Chorus know what their story is supposed to be, and they’re trying to stop it.
Of course, as it should be in any raucous comedy, the Chorus is utterly, incomprehensibly incompetent and everything they do drives the lovers closer and closer together, and so closer and closer to death. (Is there a twist to our queer romance? Maybe. Buy a ticket).
HAPPY: Who do you have in your cast?
JEAN: We’re lucky enough to have the amazing talents of both Margot Tanjutco and Louisa Wall playing our cursed lovers Juliet and Darcy; they both write and perform their own comedy, and bring that incredible comic timing to this show. Sasha Chong, Nisha Joseph, and Pallavi Waghmode play the Incompetent Chorus, but also play another 12 or so characters between them. They’re brilliant as a group and unceasingly hilarious in their solo roles. The show would falter without their energy and the camaraderie they share.
HAPPY: You’ve played some pretty amazing venues and festivals so far, what have
JEAN: Been some of the highlights so far? Opening Night of our premiere at Poppy Seed Theatre Festival in 2017 was still the best moment for me.
It was the day the results of the postal survey were announced, and opening this lesbian musical less than 12 hours after that Yes vote was an indescribably significant experience.
We had an extremely full house packed with people and their heartfelt joy in the necessity of that moment, the unspeakable relief we shared in the aftermath of a national debate that debased the queer community, the permission people accepted to just laugh and cry and feel – everything about walking into a room full of people who got that will always top any other sold-out night, any other prestigious festivals or spaces we might play.
HAPPY: Looking forward to checking out the show! Thanks for the chat!
JEAN: Thanks for the lovely questions!
Romeo Is Not The Only Fruit – The Loft, 18th – 22nd September.
More info here.