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Last night I attended the opening night of Romeo and Juliet at the Canberra Theatre, thanks to Bell Shakespeare company. I think high school English teachers have a lot to answer for in relation to many people’s (mine included) obsession with Romeo and Juliet. Partly because they choose to study this play right when girls are at their hormonal peak and quite often obsessing over some boy themselves… I guess they use that to their advantage. None-the-less, you carry this play with you through your teenage years and, just like Juliet, date those boys that your parents forbid. Thus growing your attachment to this timeless love story even more. So, no surprise, I had high hopes for this play.

This production is Peter Evans first solo effort as Artistic Director of Bell Shakespeare, and if this production is anything to go by, I cannot wait to see more of his productions.  It was also the first Bell Shakespeare production for many of the actors. Most notably, it was also Alex William’s (who played Romeo) professional theatre debut, and you wouldn’t have known it, unless you read the booklet like I did. I was fortunate enough to be sitting right on the end of row H. I say fortunate because in this production, the entire theatre was the stage and at the end of our row, was where much of the ‘off stage’ action occurred. Alex William’s has the kind of voice which could read your grocery list and make it sound like a work of art. His projection seemed effortless – and after eight years of elocution lessons in high school, I truly appreciate someone who speaks well!

A very modern looking Romeo and Juliet. Juliet stands with heavy eye makeup, looking directly act the camera, while Romeo has his arm lazily over her should, with his shirt half unbutton. Although both of them are in period costume, Juliet looks like she is wearing one of Romeo's shirts.The only disappointment I found with the production was the lack of chemistry between Alex Williams (as Romeo) and Kelly Paterniti (as Juliet). Listening to others at the function after, I was not alone in this view. Whilst their kisses lasted that just bit too long that made you feel like you were interrupting their privacy – the little things, like the gentle way you touch someone or the longing looks that only lovers give, seemed almost mechanical. Perhaps it wouldn’t have been so noticeable if the playful banter between Damien Strouthos (as Mercutio) and Jacob Warner (as Benvolio) hadn’t been so expertly crafted. I spent much of the production wondering whether it was their performance, or Michelle Doakes (as the Nurse), who stole the show. I especially appreciated how Michelle Doake brought the humorous element to her character without making it silly as you often see in productions of Romeo and Juliet. However, as much as I might not have believed the lover’s chemistry between Romeo and Juliet, Alex and Kelly perfectly nailed the tragedy scenes and it was in these scenes that you understood why they were chosen to play Romeo and Juliet. By far the best portrayal of those final moments that I’ve ever seen.

One of the reasons why I love Bell Shakespeare’s productions so much is because of how they always use space so cleverly. As I mentioned before, the entire theatre was used. But they managed it without being a gimic. It was a seemless transition that made you, as an audience member, feel like you were a part of the play, rather than merely watching it. I was also incredibly impressed with the use of music. Bell Shakespeare’s productions always seem to get the music just right, to complement the play. But this time they also managed to enhance the understanding of the play. And the music was so simple, often just a stringed instrument slowly but deliberately strumming. This was in stark contrast to the copious amounts of words that is synonymous with Shakespeare’s plays.

But what really sets Bell Shakespeare’s productions, I think, apart from any other, is their expert use of the moments when nobody is speaking. The looks that the characters give each other, the added moment they take before responding, the way they walk past each other – whether they touch slightly or just pass each other, or the way the Mercutio and Benvolio exited the stage holding hands. It is the attention to detail of those little things that could so easily be overlooked, or so easily be missed, that take Bell Shakespeare’s productions into a level that other theatre companies just can’t compete.

Bell Shakespeare’s production of Romeo and Juliet is on at The Canberra Theatre Centre until the 9th of April. After that, they move to Melbourne. And my opinion, if you haven’t worked it out already, is that this production is a definite must see!

 

Written by Nadia

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