This play needs no introduction. Romeo and Juliet is THE Shakespeare. So if one is going to do it, one must do it right - but never fear! This is Bell Shakespeare we're talking about. We're in their wheelhouse, it's their territory, their very raison d'être (quite literally). So surely they would knock it out of the park. When you go to one of their productions, you expect acting of the highest standard, you expect to know exactly what's going on because they're so adroit at bringing out the play's true meaning. Quite often, they sparkle, and so they do here. Yet, in this production of Shakespeare's tragic love epic, there is one thorn in the side that is hard to get out.
Whilst a rose by any other word may smell as sweet, whatever we call this production's Romeo, he doesn't quite hit the mark. Alex Williams may not put a real foot wrong as our hero, but against such a strong cast, he feels a little inexperienced and rather uninspiring. Hoping he would bring Shakespeare's poetry to life, his Romeo feels a little one-dimensional and as a result, the audience is not truly drawn into his (supposed to be) quintessential love affair. Fresh out of WAAPA in 2011, this is William's Bell Shakespeare debut, but it seems he has bitten off a little more than he can chew this time. Whilst having a firm acting base, it was his failure to truly make the character his own that was his downfall and which renders the chemistry he attempts to conjure with his Juliet rather unenthralling. My theatre companion Rosie and I even postulated that Benvolio (brought to life with ease by the young Jacob Warner) could make a more inspiring Romeo. We had hoped for more.
However, in this sense, Romeo is a complete outlier in this production and appears to be one weak link in an otherwise strong chain. His leading lady is the perfect example, taking many an artistic liberty. We are graced with Kelly Paterniti's nuanced performance as our heroine as she does everything in her power to capture our attention with every single syllable. Going for a youthful approach, she brings us the naïveté of the fourteen year old Juliet without the triteness it could have inspired. Along with an effervescent performance from Michelle Doake as her nurse, she communicates the impatience and inquisitiveness of a love-struck teenager that we can all relate to. This level of artistry remains just as high for many of the other central cast members and unfortunately only aids in further highlighting this Romeo's shortcomings.
Behind our beloved Montagues and Capulets, Anna Cordingley’s set design is an innovative approach which provides ample movement for such a small space. With many an exposed scaffold, our characters keep us guessing as they jump around the stage with their jungle gym antics. The lighting and sound also add an important punctuation to the production, being not too overbearing and not too subtle that it is missed. Yet, not all the staging, nor lighting, nor sparkling supporting cast in the world can make up for a suitor with little sizzle. As the play reaches its familiar denouement, we are once again reminded of the old adage that blood is thicker than water. Perhaps these lovers will gel as one in the weeks to come. Here's hoping they do.