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Review: Bell Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet

Heather Wallace

Here’s something I never thought I’d say about Romeo and Juliet – I laughed. A lot!

Let me explain before you calleth me a heartless wench foresooth. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know their names as shorthand for tragic love. Their story is the base for countless retellings, a musical (West Side Story), a martial arts action flick (Romeo Must Die), and even a zom/rom/com (Warm Bodies).

I know the text well, I’ve seen bits of Baz’s version, but I’ve never actually seen the play from start to finish. So I hadn’t picked up how funny it can be. And in Bell Shakespeare’s production by Director Peter Evans you can’t miss how raunchy the humour is.

That’s thanks to energetic performances by Michelle Doake as Juliet’s Nurse and Damien Strouthos as Romeo’s best friend Mercutio. They each have sex on the brain and see no reason to stem their lusty humours. Apart they are hilarious, in their one shared scene they steal the show. Add in Jacob Warner as Romeo’s cousin Benvolio who, in between trying keeping the peace between the warring Montagues and Capulets, throws out dry wit and one-liners.

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As good as those three are, it’s not their characters the play is named after, so what are Romeo (Alex Williams) and Juliet (Kelly Paterniti) like? You might have seen the promotional images released for the tour, with the two leads in a punked up version of Elizabethan finery. Don’t worry, it’s not as I’d feared Sid and Nancy go to Verona. On stage they both come across as so young, but they are also extremely physical and passionate, reminding you what it’s like to be a teenager discovering the opposite sex.

At times the dynamic doesn’t quite work, their “parting is such sweet sorrow” loves scene comes across a bit like she’s sending him off to schoolies week, but by the tragic end they are heart wrenching in their grief. As they took their final bow it was easy to see how effected both actors had been by the intensity of their scenes as young love turned to gut-wrenching sorrow.

Anna Cordingley’s production style is stunning. Hand held light boxes illuminate and conceal passions and hatreds by turn, and the characters climb over and through a steel frame that is both a balcony and funeral crypt. The fight scenes through the industrial like frame are exhilarating and the choreography by movement director Nigel Poulton is worth the admission cost.

Romeo And Juliet 2016 Image 1 Photography by Pierre Toussaint featuring Kelly Paterniti and Alex Williams

With his tousled blonde hair and heavy eyeliner Romeo could be straight out of a Duran Duran film clip (that’s not a bad thing, it’s been my ideal of masculine beauty since I was Juliet’s age) and the costumes hark back to Shakespeare’s own period, while still being sleek and contemporary. It’s a good call to root the look in the 17th century as not only is it a nice nod to 2016 being the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death but it stops you thinking how a quickly SnapChat could have prevented that whole ‘pretending to be dead in the crypt’ tragedy.

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Peter Evans said after the show that this is the most famous play he’s ever directed. For all that, the cast and crew were determined not to let history’s expectations crush them and have brought to the stage a living production where you want to believe that this time there just might be a happy ending waiting in the wings.

the essentials

What: Bell Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet
Where: The Playhouse, Canberra Theatre Centre
When: Until Saturday 9 April
How much: Adult $79.50-$93.50; Concession $68.50-$79.50; Under 18 $37.50.
Purchase tickets via the Canberra Theatre Centre website:

All images courtesy of Daniel Boud and Bell Shakespeare


Heather Wallace

Heather’s career in arts and heritage PR spans 15 years, with highlights including working for Sean Connery at the Edinburgh International Film Festival and promoting Australia’s World Heritage places. Her blog, Myths and Misadventures, (, is about life lessons we can learn from the Romans. You can follow her on Twitter @Missmythology. More about the Author