Romeo And Juliet | Bell Shakespeare
Effortlessly maneuvering through bawdy comedy, intimacy and tragedy, Bell Shakespeare’s tragedy shows the sheer power of Australian Shakespeare when well founded and lovingly developed through the years in a powerful production that could challenge many from English soil.
After seeing their touring Hamlet last year I was in awe of how the actors used the set, and performing in a single venue has allowed them to push practical design to its peak. Anna Cordingley’s spectacular set goes beyond a backdrop to be entrenching in every scene, with the actors spending more time on the scaffolding then on the ground. The carefully embroidered costumes are equally gorgeous, taking inspiration from the play’s original time period without being restrained by it – I’m particularly fond of Romeo’s jacket. The colour coding of the two houses becomes slightly confusing with the Prince and Paris wearing Capulet colours and Mercutio leaning more towards the Montagues, but as it’s reoccurring theme within Romeo and Juliet productions I think it’s more my personal want to see Escalus family clearly marked as one, particularly in productions such as this that give attention to.
The Capulet’s resist the typical depiction of a distant and dysfunctional family, and their closeness throughout the play makes their explosive conflict all the more shocking and chilling.
Poulton’s fight choreography is utterly breathtaking, and from the front row it had me pushed back into my seat desperately wishing I’d brought my fencing mask and Kevlar. It’s also very clever, going beyond sparring to work costumes and the set itself into the battle. The subdued lighting and haunting score also add to the play’s blended atmosphere of comedy and tragedy.
While I was uncertain about the lead’s chemistry in their opening scenes, by the second act their relationship appears so sweet and natural that their doom becomes all the more powerful. Paterniti’s Juliet in particular is played extremely young, highlighting her rebellious ingenuity, feistiness and vulnerability, and William’s Romeo goes from being charmingly exasperating to his friends to a passionate young man pushed to the brink of desperation.
But for me the standout performances were those that supported the leads, with Romeo’s friends and Juliet’s family thriving from both uncut lines and careful attention to their characters. The Capulet’s resist the typical depiction of a distant and dysfunctional family, and their closeness throughout the play makes their explosive conflict all the more shocking and chilling. Juliet’s parents are tragic figures in their own right, with her father’s terrifying change of heart and her mother’s desperation to become closer to her daughter standing in contrast to her warm, easy relationship with her nurse (also wonderfully played).
Benvolio and Mercutio also maintain a number of rarely staged lines, building their characters to such a degree that when they share scenes with Romeo it feels like a group of equals. This is especially notable with Benvolio, who can often be neglected in productions. The cut overall is extremely well done, allowing for a huge amount of dialogue so rare that it’s practically new (that I think I will miss in other R+J productions) while not compromising on trademark scenes.
After three months and three cities, Romeo and Juliet’s closing weekend is unmissable! Now it’s merely a matter of waiting for their Othello to take centrestage from July for their six month long national tour.