The nurse in ‘Romeo and Juliet’ should be played as a loud and outspoken character, with a harsh, grating voice, and a coarse but not malicious sense of humour. She is quite tenacious, very unsubtle, and in essence brash and crude. She is a stereotype of the lower classes at the time; unrefined, vulgar and uneducated, but despite this, she seems to care more about Juliet than Juliet’s real mother, who is quite self-absorbed. She is very passionate and forthright in her opinions, and likes to pretend she is more genteel than she really is.
Physically, I would picture her as a short, round woman, possibly with a blonde bob and blotchy pink face. I don’t think a thin actress would seem right to play her, as she has a larger-than-life persona which wouldn’t be quite right in a slim body, although this is also a stereotype.
The sort of actress I would choose to play the nurse in an ideal world would be a large, effusive actress or possibly a comedian, between about 30 and 50.
A comedian would be good because the nurse is basically playing for laughs a lot of the time.
I would play this role in a coarse and unrestrained way, making the most out of the many opportunities for laughs. When Lady Capulet’s mother sends her away, she goes slowly and reluctantly, turning to make a face at the audience behind Lady Capulet’s back, before returning immediately with a sickly sweet smile to Lady Capulet when she is called back.
She gets very heated about Juliet not being fourteen, and bangs her fist on the side as she says, ‘I’ll lay fourteen of my teeth …’, before trailing off when she remembers she has only four, and opening her mouth for Juliet to see.
While she is telling the tale, I think she should be pacing around the bedroom, moving objects around clumsily and generally interfering, and when she says ‘sitting in the sun under the dove house wall’, she sits on the bed and motions for Juliet to come and sit next to her, before pinching Juliet’s cheeks and ruffling her hair. With lines like, “She was too good for me”, and ” God be with his soul,” I think she would act respectable and serious, with exaggerated actions like putting her hand over her heart when she remembers her husband.
When, finally, she realises Lady Capulet and Juliet don’t find her anecdote funny, she starts to make asides to the audience, such as “Nay bigger; women grow by men”, chuckling to herself. When Lady Capulet repeatedly asks her to stop, she says “Yes, madam” as you might to pacify a child, but then takes no heed, and after about 5 seconds just starts talking again as though nothing had happened. Later, when Lady Capulet is trying to talk about Paris, the nurse keeps joining in the conversation to annoy her, mocking her when she repeats Lady Capulet’s statement that Paris is a flower.