Bringing the Bard bug

Romeo & Juliet (shake & stir theatre company)

It might sometimes feel like nothing new can be said about Shakespeare. Thankfully, however, shake & stir theatre co disagree and their In School production of “Romeo & Juliet” is testament to this in the manner with which it brings a traditional text to life while maximising its engagement with audience members.

This is very much a post-Luhrmann production with mutual elements that are immediately identifiable. Johnny Balbuziente plays a moody Romeo, while Dani Miller emphasises Juliet’s youthful innocence. In terms of characters, however, it is Matt Walsh who is truly given chance to shine; his Mercutio is playfully flamboyant, and as Juliet’s overly-dramatic, bosomy nurse, he encapsulates the kind of bawdy humour synonymous with the Bard’s work.


While this “Romeo & Juliet” adaptation includes some hints at the play’s sexually suggestive, crude and humorously indecent language, it never strays too far out of PG territory, befitting its school student audiences. Rather, the work manages to condense the Bard’s five acts into a lively 50 minutes, including all significant scenes and showing how little the pair of lovers actually features together in the text.

What helps to bridge the scenes is the manner in which the young love is recontextualised through the clever use of intertwining text, music, video and photography, whose Instagram filters help create the show’s Hipster, Indie feel. Not only does this add to audience appeal, but in providing passage of time transitions, it also allows for the performer’s rapid character conversions. For this is a show of just three actors, but many characters and in every instance characterisation is distinct, achieved not just through props and costumes, but the simplest of nuances such as an altered stature or gaze.


It is clear that shake & stir knows its audiences just as much as it respects its source material and the company’s passion for performing ensures that young people are empowered to take on the canon, whether this be by prompting consideration of the role of fortune and where guilt over the tragedy should lie or encouraging even the most reluctant of audience members to connect with the work’s lyrical words. Given that the relevance and context of Shakespeare’s humour can so often be lost in language, this is certainly a wonderful thing.

It has been said that poetry, Shakespeare and opera are like mumps and should be caught when young, for in the unhappy event that there is a postponement to mature years, the results may be devastating. Thankfully, shake & stir provides a platform to bring the Bard bug to young people for the catching.

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