Is this the most 2020 play? Romeo and Juliet, performed by microbes


Wong has drawn on the dramas of her own pandemic life. While Romeo and Juliet were separated by their feuding families, Wong and her partner were separated by lockdown. She took swabs of both their skin and grew them together in a petri dish, reuniting them in microbial form and filming them growing together.

Artist and designer Huei Yin Wong

Artist and designer Huei Yin Wong

“Pandemics do pretty weird things to people, and weirder things to art,” she says. But, after all, Shakespeare himself wrote Romeo and Juliet under lockdown during a London plague.

Wong wants to show the “hidden dramas” all around us.

“The global pandemic is a microscopic drama, it’s not something we can ever perceive,” says Wong. “Yet it’s there and it’s brought the entire modern world to a halt.”

Google’s text to speech program reads the lines on behalf of the characters. Wong wants her adaptation to embrace global obsession with the microbe, advances in AI, and limits on the way theatre can be rehearsed and staged.

The AI’s struggle with Shakespeare’s old English is just part of the eccentricities of its performance says Wong. “They’re just how the AI has chosen to interpret Shakespeare.”

She says the combination of AI and colourful microscopic visuals produces a meditative experience. “Colours slowly shift and change, and microbes move around, and you hear the pining between these two characters that have been around for 430 years.”

Wong doesn’t have a background in science. Her day job is as an art director in advertising. But she says the pandemic has pushed her and many others into being “living-room scientists”, who track case numbers every morning, learn about microbes and have become aware of life on every surface.

After Wong came up with the idea, she sourced a microscope from a local lab. The experience of looking at her own red blood cells for the first time was “awe-inspiring”.