Romeo and Juliet

Bell Shakespeare Romeo and Juliet Kelly Paterniti Alex Williams photo by Daniel BoudIn her program notes for their 2016 production of Romeo and Juliet, Bell Shakespeare Chairman, Ilana Atlas describes it intriguingly as “a departure from what you have come to expect from Bell Shakespeare”.

Was this a reference to Anna Cordingley’s splendid period design for this production? Bell Shakespeare productions have always been notable for being presented in contemporary costumes, or at least costumes that are ambiguous in period. One argument being that in medieval times, Shakespeare’s actors would have worn contemporary costumes.

One of the problems of presenting Shakespeare in contemporary dress however is that his characters continue to talk in medieval language, which many find alienating and distracting when the characters are dressed in business suits. No such problem in this production because the characters are costumed in splendid medieval-inspired costumes allowing them to look and sound to many, exactly as they should.

Director Peter Evans and his designer, Anna Cordingley have set this handsome production as a play within a play, occurring in the confines of a decaying theatre. Embracing the theatricality of this concept, the fine cast enthusiastically explore the endless opportunities available to intrigue and delight the eye as well as the ear, to create a luscious and absorbing realisation of perhaps the most famous play in the Shakespearean repertoire.

Judicious doubling of characters, clever lighting, and mysterious background characters that dart through the mist carrying lanterns, create an illusion of a much larger cast than is actually present.  Beautifully paced scenes transition quickly and seamlessly to maintain the focus on the plight of the impetuous young lovers, played with intensity and conviction by Alex Williams and Kelly Paterniti.

Kelly Paterniti is simply riveting as Juliet. Entirely convincing as a sheltered teenager experiencing the rapture of first love, she fascinates with her depictions of Juliet’s various responses to her awakening sexuality, her wilfulness when confronted by her father, and final horrified responses to the discovery of Romeo’s body.

The casting of Alex Williams as Romeo is equally inspired. His contemporary good looks and youthful brashness make it easy to understand Juliet’s instant attraction. He’s also impressively athletic, which he demonstrates in Nigel Poulton’s excellently staged fight scenes.

Michelle Doake treads a fine line with her captivating performance as the Nurse. Gauche, often silly, occasionally bawdy in the early scenes, her distress for Juliet when Lord Capulet  demands that she marry Paris, is beautifully realised.

Justin Stewart Cotta gives an impressive performance as Lord Capulet, impotent with frustration as he realises he can no longer control his precious daughter. Angie Milliken as his wife, Lady Capulet also, captures well the dilemma of a mother torn between wifely duty and motherly love.

Tom Stokes brings an unexpected brooding quality to Tybalt, which adds extra frisson to the scene in which he re-appears as if raised from the dead, as the mysterious apothecary who hands Romeo the vial of poison which he uses to commit suicide.

Rounding out a cast notable for the clarity of its diction and phrasing are Jacob Warner (Benvolio), Damien Strouthas (Mercutio), Michael Gupta (Paris), and Hazem Shammas (Friar) Cramer Cain (Friar John).

Whatever it is about this production which signals the “departure from what you have come to expect from Bell Shakespeare”, this is a production guaranteed to rekindle your love of Romeo and Juliet and the timeless words of William Shakespeare.

Director: Peter Evans Featuring: Cramer Cain, Justin Stewart Cotta, Michelle Doake, Michael Gupta, Angie Milliken, Kelly Paterniti, Hazem Shammas, Tom Stokes, Damien Strouthos, Jacob Warner, Alex Williams Designer: Anna Cordingley Lighting Designer: Benjamin Cisterne Composer and Sound Designer: Kelly Ryall Fight and Movement Director: Nigel Poulton Voice Coach: Jess Chambers

Romeo and Juliet
Playhouse – Canberra Theatre Centre, London Circuit, Canberra
Performance: Saturday 2 April 2016 – 7.30pm
Season continues to 9 April 2016
Bookings: (02) 6275 2700 or online at:

Fairfax Studio – Arts Centre Melbourne, 100 St. Kilda Road, Melbourne
Season: 14 April – 1 May 2016
Bookings: 1300 182 183 or online at:

For more information, visit: for details.

Image: Kelly Paterniti and Alex Williams star in Bell Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet – photo by Daniel Boud

Review: Bill Stephens