Arts Review: Romeo and Juliet – Bell Shakespeare, Sydney Opera House (Australian Tour)

The world’s most recognized story proves it’s still got something new to share in this latest production of Romeo and Juliet by Bell Shakespeare.

Whether it be in the heights of the stage’s scaffold set, or the choreography of its power swordplay, or in the hilarious delivery of well-loved lines that we never knew we were allowed to laugh at before, there’s something about this production that makes you feel just as charmed by the tale as when you first heard it.

First that set! The cast swings up and jumps down from a full stage of scaffolding like monkey bars. The movement is incredibly effective, and the ringing sound of the hit metal reverberates around the theatre with dramatic intensity. The sound is used to great emphasis through the chaotic swordplay enacted on stage, making the moments seem all the more vivid.

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There is this almost constant underscore throughout that thuds loudly like a beating heart, matched in feeling by the dimly lit stage and use of carried lanterns.

There is definitely an emphasis on moments of the play sometimes overshadowed, for example Romeo and Mercutio’s first discussion of dreams, reality and premonition is given much of the attention that it should be. Focusing on Romeo’s (frustrating) emotional tendendencies. The emphasis on this moment plays well for Alex Williams’ Romeo, who plays more towards that young, dare I say it- “emo boy band” type. It works. It works well. Especially that eyeliner.

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The production also leads a lot more to the relationship between Mercuito (Damien Strouthos) and Benvolio (Jacob Warner) which I loved, because wow now all I am going to see is the subtle sexual undercurrents between those two in the play. Thanks Bell! It also gave us more stage time of Strouthos who I felt really stole the stage here. His Mercuito was absolutely hilarious, full of life and vigor and I found myself really wishing they had changed the story so that I could see more of him in the second half. Alas.

Carrying on this re-invisioning is Kelly Paterniti and her Juliet, who is not meek or fluttering like a little bird AT ALL. This Juliet is chatty, lively, straightforward and very amusing. She delivers her lines with such brass that you can truly appreciate moments where Juliet speaks words of hilarious relatability- “I should have been more strange” a very good example.

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There is much to love in this production, yes it’s still Shakespeare’s great tragedy but here there is much more time here given to the charm of its words too. For here is a story of more than woe, this of Juliet and her Romeo.

Hark! Romeo and Juliet will be performed at Playhouse, Sydney Opera House until 27th March before touring to Canberra and Melbourne. For more information and tour dates visit https://www.bellshakespeare.com.au

The reviewer attended Opening Night on the 24th February.