As Nurse, Michelle Doake doesn’t just milk the comedy, she creams it. And the dagger and sword play choreographed by Nigel Poulton cuts a swathe as sharp as Doake's delivery.
She is a marvellous creation, capturing all the vulgarity, vanity, foolishness, and warm heartedness of the character.
She is well matched in the hi-jinks of the first half of the play by Damien Strouthos, a robust and ribald Mercutio, Jacob Warner, a relaxed, responsible and responsive take as his apprentice amorist, Benvolio, and Cramer Cain, in a cheeky, cheerful turn as the Capulet's retainer, Peter.
They set the tone just right playing the joy, lyricism, bawdy fun and youthful exuberance that sets up the tragic pay-off of the second act.
The catalyst of the tragedy, Tybalt, who Mercutio taunts as a rat-catcher, is played with a steely malevolence by Tom Stokes, who also shows an adroit dexterity in his handling of steel in the marvellous aforementioned sword play. It's a nifty touch to have him double as the apothecary who supplies Romeo with his apocalyptic poison.
Justin Stewart Cotta essays a muscular Lord Capulet a towering contrast to Angie Milliken as his soft spoken spouse, a character disconnected to husband, daughter and the real conflict that surrounds her society.
Hazem Shammas is splendid as the Friar who gets caught up in the youngster's heady affair, his prudence compromised by a belief that their union may destroy the families blood fued.
As the star crossed lovers, Alex Williams struts and frets in teenage hormonal turmoil as Romeo, callow youth catapulted to doomed man of action to fill the void of Mercutio's absence.
Kelly Paterniti certainly looks the part, and presents a feisty fourteen year old, lively and witty, but innocent at first. By the end of the balcony scene, she has blossomed into the decisive and pragmatic heroine of the piece.
On a set of scaffold partly surfaced with balconies and a semblance of a draped Victorian proscenium, the actors are dressed in costumes redolent of an even earlier age.
In this, the year of the quadricentennial commemoration of Shakespeare’s death, this production of Romeo & Juliet does the Bard proud.
Bell Shakespeare presents
Romeo and Juliet
By William Shakespeare
Director Peter Evans
Venue: Sydney Opera House
Dates: 24 February – 27 March, 2016
Venue: Canberra Theatre Centre
Dates: 2 – 9 April, 2016
Venue: Arts Centre Melbourne
Dates: 15 April – 1 May, 2016