Part of the Poppy Seed Theatre Festival, Romeo Is Not The Only Fruit is a lesbian musical retelling of Shakespeare’s classic, Romeo and Juliet. The production was created in response to the 2016 discussions surrounding the Bury Your Gays trope, which describes how creators will often kill off queer characters. According to Autostraddle only 30 out of a total 383 queer female characters got happy endings on TV shows from 1796 to 2016. This trope is explicitly referenced throughout the musical with the repeated refrain: ‘Why do the lesbians always die?’
The action of Romeo Is Not The Only Fruit is commentated by a chorus of dead lesbian characters (Nisha Joseph, Sasha Wong and Pallavi Waghmode), who try desperately to save main characters Juliet (Margot Tanjuntco) and Darcy (Louisa Wall) from what they see as their inevitable doom. At times the number of fourth-wall breaks pulled me out of the show, but the chorus worked well to set the fun and wry tone of the production, which both embraces and subverts traditional romantic storytelling.
One of the first lines of the musical is ‘it is a truth universally acknowledged that all queer love stories must be told through song, dance and heightened emotional outbursts.’ And this is a promise that the show lives up to, song-heavy with upbeat music and tight choreography often played for laughs. The book, co-written by Jean Tong and Tanjutco, is a satirical celebration of queer culture, with witty lines such as ‘is this where the U-Haul thing happens?‘ delivered at such a pace that, like Pokemon, the joy is trying to catch them all.
The cast of Romeo Is Not The Only Fruit is almost entirely women of colour, which was a deliberate decision that Tanjutco talks about in an interview with Pencilled In. It is also acknowledged in the world of the show, which flips the usual race power dynamics. While portraying white as the ‘minority’ risks becoming twee, Romeo Is Not The Only Fruit avoids this pitfall by grounding this decision with sharp and funny moments the mirror the microagressions of real life. A gay club owner sincerely tells a white Darcy ‘glad [she was] brave enough to come here!’ and Juliet’s mother (Sasha Chong) is glad that Darcy can ‘take a joke.’ One of the most bitingly funny songs of the musical is set at a family dinner, with a repeated chorus of ‘We are so not racist’.
The entire cast gave strong performances with Tanjutco and Wall as the star-crossed lovers, who had a wonderful chemistry onstage and Joseph’s portrayal of G-Ma was played with great physical humour. Considering the small theatre space, the props and set were used with great economy. Details like cardboard cups flipping over to empty and a chorus member becoming part of an arcade game really added to the charm of the production.
Though I’m sure anyone would enjoy it, Romeo Is Not The Only Fruit is a musical created by queer creators of colour for queer audiences. Right now, as our media is overwhelmingly white and Australian LGBT+ people having endured a targeted campaign of being told they don’t belong, I think we need more musicals like Romeo Is Not The Only Fruit, which decentre whiteness and say a resolute ‘fuck you’ to heteronormativity.
Romeo Is Not The Only Fruit is playing at The Butterfly Club until 26th November. Further information and tickets can be found here.