Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Romeo and Juliet, Bell Shakepeare, April 15, 2016 ***1/2

By William Shakespeare, Bell Shakespeare Company
Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre Melbourne, until May 1, 2016
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on April 15, 2016
Review also online in Herald Sun Arts on Tues April 19, 2016 and also in print. KH
Romeo and Juliet - Kelly Paterniti, Alex Williams_pic Daniel Boud
In the first minutes of the opening night of Romeo and Juliet, the electrics failed and director, Peter Evans, diverted the audience with chatter about Shakespeare until the lights came up, accompanied by a cheer, and the crowd was now in the palm of his hand.

Evans’ production captures the passionate spirit of Shakespeare’s play about adolescent ‘star-crossed lovers’ from feuding families, beginning as a playful comedy before veering relentlessly into tragedy after Mercutio’s (Damien Strouthos) violent death, the first of many.

The youthful cast, although older than Juliet’s almost 14 years, embodies the intemperate passions and lack of impulse control of these privileged, young people of Verona; the stage is steaming with hormones.

Some of Shakespeare’s glorious, poetic textures and rhythms are lost amidst the brazen, energetic delivery of famous monologues, but the volatility of these teenage lovers and their exuberant, feuding cohorts enlivens the story, bringing it into our times.

A curtained archway and two high balconies supported by scaffolding, and the elegant, brocaded costumes, evoke the Italian Renaissance town on this stage within a stage designed by Anna Cordingley.

Alex Williams’ Romeo is boyish, petulant, whining (a little too much whining), a victim of his hormones and romantic fantasies that lead him into perils including seducing and marrying his enemy’s daughter and killing her cousin leading to his death and his lover’s. No spoiler alert needed.

Kelly Paterniti is pert and girlish as the besotted Juliet, and her tiny, poppet-like frame and light voice make credible Juliet’s childish flightiness, foolhardy decisions and romantic musings.

Michelle Doake is a comic highlight as Juliet’s Nurse and she relishes her bawdy dialogue, foolish ramblings and slapstick tomfoolery.

Strouthos plays Mercutio as a brattish, brawling fun-lover but his characterisation lacks some of the charm and charisma that are essential ingredients of any unforgettable Mercutio.

Shakespeare’s story is riddled with bullying, thuggery, gang feuds and domestic violence so a contemporary audience needs to suspend any gentler sensibilities and try not to judge characters such as Mercutio, Tibalt (Tom Stokes) and Lord Capulet (Justin Stuart Cotta) as the bullies that they are.

Evans’ direction moves at a galloping pace while the palpably dangerous sword fights (directed by Nigel Poulton) epitomise the hot-bloodedness of these feuding gangs.

Jacob Warner is a dignified Benvolio, Hazzam Shamas opens the play with a comical Samson and later plays the naive, fearful Friar.

Angie Milliken gives grace and vulnerability to Lady Capulet, Michael Gupta plays the County Paris as blissfully ignorant, while Cramer Cain is a goofy Peter, the servant.

In Romeo and Juliet, the characters are on an inexorable march toward the tragic finale in the Capulets’ tomb, but an audience cannot help but want to warn them every step of the way and shout, “Don’t do it!” – to no avail, of course.

By Kate Herbert

Peter Evans director
Design Anna Cordingley
Light Benjamin Cisterne
Sound Kelly Ryall
Fight move Nigel Poulton

Alex Williams Romeo
Juliet Kelly Paterniti
Nurse Michelle Doake
Mercutio Damien Strouthos
Tibalt Tom Stokes
Paris Michael Gupta
Lady Capulet Angie Milliken
Lord Capulet  Justin Stuart Cotta
Friar Hazzam Shamas
Lord Montague Cramer Cain

Alex Williams_pic Daniel Boud
Kelly Paterniti, Alex Williams_pic Daniel Boud

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