By Liam McLoughlin 5/3/2016
‘Give me my Romeo; and when I shall die,
Take him and cut him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night,
And pay no worship to the garish sun.’
If Romeo and Juliet were all about the chuckles, Bell Shakespeare’s latest offering would shine. Yet one imagines its centuries of success have more to do with the portrayal of the poetic intensity of young love than a few good gags. It’s here the current production falls down.
There are brilliant aspects to Peter Evans first work as Bell's new Artistic Director. Michelle Doake is a sensation as the nurse. She has a tremendous comic presence and generates hearty laughs from the audience throughout. She builds rapport so swiftly, soon enough the audience is laughing at the tiniest of her gestures and utterances. Damien Strouthos plays up to Mercutio’s confident sexuality with gay abandon and Benvolio brings a relatable ease and modern comic sensibility to his performance.
The fight scenes are masterfully choreographed by Nigel Poulton and well executed by several members of the cast. The beats of Kelly Ryall’s music conjure those of the heart and are the perfect accompaniment to Juliet’s first meeting with Romeo and to later fight scenes. Anna Cordingly’s creation of a theatre within a theatre is a clever use of the intimate space and in an age of adaptations, her period costumes are a refreshing evocation of the period.
Ultimately though, these aspects are peripheral. In the show’s program, author Felicity McLean writes about the great challenge of presenting the 'most revised and canonised of Shakespeare’s plays. How to give audiences something fresh, yet still true?' She then asks, 'What if ...Romeo and Juliet simply requires us to feel?'
And this is true, it is a play that does require us to really feel; to feel the intense love between Juliet and her Romeo; to feel grief and anguish as they feel grief and anguish; and to feel heartbroken over their tragic fate. At least that has been my experience of other versions of the play, whether that be Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 film or Sydney Theatre Company’s 2013 production. That’s why so many love this play.
But this profound depth of feeling is missing for both actors and audience in the current production, at least on opening night. It’s not for want of trying. Alex Williams as Romeo and Kelly Paterniti as Juliet throw themselves into these roles. They bring energy and sweetness to their characters. Yet there remains a isconnect between the players and their audience, and sometimes even a isconnect between the actors and the lines they deliver.
Well paced and punctuated with laughs from the hilarious nurse, the ribald Mercutio and the flirtatious Benvolio, the first half is thoroughly entertaining. The second half sorely lacks Mercutio (sorry if that’s a spoiler. Here’s another: the Titanic sinks). It starts to drag as it descends into tragedy and suddenly the fact Romeo and Juliet are hurtling towards their deaths just doesn’t seem that tragic after all.
Let’s hope the leads grow into their roles and future audiences feel moved by every beautiful word.
Rating: 2.5 stars out of 5
Romeo and Juliet
By William Shakespeare
Director: Peter Evans
Designer: Anna Cordingley
Lighting Designer: Benjamin Cisterne
Composer and Sound Designer: Kelly Ryall
Movement and Fight Director: Nigel Poulton
Voice Coach: Jess Chambers
Cast: Cramer Cain, Justine Stewart Cotta, Michelle Doake, Michael Gupta, Angie Milliken, Kelly Paterniti, Tom Stokes, Damien Strouthos, Hazem Shammas, Jacob Warner and Alex Williams
Playhouse, Sydney Opera House
20 February – 27 March 2016