This bud of love, by summer’s ripening breath




How did you feel when you heard you’d got the part?

Alex: I was elated! Romeo is one of those roles that I’ve always wanted to do before I get too old to do it. I couldn’t be happier that I’m doing it at Bell Shakespeare.

Kelly: I felt excited. The way [director] Peter Evans explained what he wanted to do with Romeo & Juliet, I just couldn’t really have said no. He has such a wonderful vision for this production.

(Listen to an interview with Peter Evans about his plans for Romeo & Juliet here)

How have you been preparing for the role?

K: I’ve been doing a lot of reading. And I’ve been collecting my own little mini image board of things. I find it helpful to look at the visual collection and think “Oh yeah, that’s where my head is supposed to be”.

A: I’ve been reading the play non-stop! I’ve seen the movie versions a few times too but you don’t want to fill your head too much with other peoples’ interpretations.

How would you describe your characters?

A: With Romeo, there’s a lot of cheekiness. There’s a lot of emotion. He’s quite raw. And I think every actor’s Romeo is different. Everyone brings a bit of themselves to their Romeo.

K: Juliet is an incredibly bright young lady who transforms in front of our eyes from this very obedient daughter to this mature woman who disobeys her parents and goes for what she wants. She’s very headstrong and very imaginative.

Why do you think this play is still so incredibly popular more than 400 years after it was written?

A: It’s definitely one of Shakespeare’s most accessible plays. Not everyone can identify with wanting the throne like in the History plays, but with Romeo & Juliet everyone can identify with having strong feelings towards another person. On that basis, it’s very easy to sympathise and empathise with the main characters.

K: If you look at everything that’s going on in the world today, Romeo & Juliet is still timely. There are still so many conflicts. People are still dictating what women can and can’t do. There are still so many people who are trying to escape where they are to follow their dreams. I was in India not that long ago and I met this guy who was madly love with this girl, but he could only see her in secret. And that was only a year or so ago.

The play is a tragedy but there’s lots of laughter in it too, isn’t there.

K: It’s really funny! I think everyone calls it a tragedy because they know how it ends. It’s comic but that makes it more tragic because you’re laughing and yet you know that, inevitably, these two people are going to die. There you go! The meaning of life! We’ve discovered it, right there!

A: I think comedy is what most guys will revert to when trying to woo a lady. In a few different points in the play, Romeo thinks he’s going to use his wit and intelligence to sweep Juliet off her feet – but she completely outwits him! And I think that’s part of the reason that he falls head over heels.

And despite the tragic finale, there is a hopeful message at the end too isn’t there.

K: That’s absolutely right. It takes something so tragic to make everyone realise how trivial the feud has been. What is hopeful is that these two families may go on and, in future, maybe new people could meet and fall in love from those families. It’s a nice way to end. I hope that’s what people will take from it.

Rehearsals start in early January. How are you feeling right now?

A: Terrified! [Laughs] No, I’m very excited to get going. I’m really looking forward to working with Peter Evans to not only realise what I think this story is about, or what I think my Romeo is about; but what everyone else thinks too. The collaboration is the most exciting aspect for me.

K: I feel excited. I’ve got to do all the Christmas cheer and joy first of course! But that’s also nice because I’ll be able to think about Romeo & Juliet over that extended period and prepare.

Alex Williams and Kelly Paterniti star in Romeo & Juliet at the Sydney Opera House (20 February – 27 March), Canberra Theatre Centre (1 – 9 April) and the Arts Centre Melbourne (14 April – 1 May). Details here.

Interviews edited by Felicity McLean, freelance writer and author.