Review by Alison Stoddart
In the (relatively) new performance home of the Bell Shakespeare Company at Pier 2/3 Walsh Bay is the Nielson Nutshell Theatre, an intimate three-sided theatre of five rows that places the audience directly in the action. An undressed space of two raised square mini stages (to represent the two Verona families perhaps) is the setting upon which this production of Romeo and Juliet plays out under the ubiquitous but effective lighting of a multitude of bare bulbs.
The audience was a pleasingly range of ages with the very young well in attendance, a statement to the timelessness of this play or perhaps the NSW school curriculum. And the playfulness of the cast cavorting in some laugh out loud slapstick went a long way to keeping them entertained.
Reminiscent of the days of the Globe Theatre where the crowds would stand in front of the stage to watch the performances, the interaction was taken to the next level with this interpretation of one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays. The party scene where the two lovers meet was cleverly portrayed with some elegant dance choreography and the inviting of front row audience by cast members to join them on the floor for a dance. Meta theatre done well, and which earned a receptive round of applause.
The light-heartedness which Peter Evans imbues in his direction is felt in abundance and there were some very funny moments when Romeo (Jacob Warner) rolled and skulked around and between the two raised stages, avoiding Mercutio and Benvolio. At one point he almost ended up sitting in an audience member’s lap and another time quick thinkingly blessed a sneezing patron. Blazey Best also deserves a mention as the loud and forthright Mercutio who was a whizz with a sword (until she wasn’t).
There was a lot of carrying, tossing and rolling of rugs of which the point was unclear, but it did provide a soft landing for the excellent fight choreography. The costumes were pared back and understated but had enough vivid colours to bring a sense of time and place.
The play seems to focus more on the sexual attraction between the two lovers. Some lovely gentle pashing sent a ripple through the audience and rather than being awkward, imbued the performance with tangible desire. It was palpable how quickly these two realise their attraction. As Juliet comments with delight, twice, ‘you kiss by the book!’. This aspect draws a direct contrast with Mercutio’s cynical insight of ‘if love be rough with you be rough with love’. This is the beauty of Shakespeare; his plays are constantly shifting in its perception by consumers. And that is what Bell Shakespeare has leaned into with this interpretation of Romeo and Juliet. These young people are filled with desire and yes, lust, and that is why they make foolish choices. Something I’m sure most of the audience can ascribe to.
Bell Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet captures a moment, a lifetime, an old person’s reminiscence and a young person’s empathic delight. It’s theatre’s past and present. Romeo and Juliet is a triumph