The Nottingham New Theatre and Lakeside Arts present ‘fantasy land’ Romeo and Juliet, a fantastic and vibrant production opening on 2nd May. Tabitha Smith talked to some of the cast and production team to get some insight into how they’re bringing this timeless story to life.
I had the opportunity to speak backstage with Ana Balanici and Abigail Kitwood, who are the assistant director and assistant stage manager respectively, and cast members Alessia Lowcock, who plays Friar Lawrence, Maisie Jack, as the nurse, and Stella Liu, in the titular role of Juliet. Sitting down with them, I immediately asked about the set that was coming together in the room around us. Alessia told me about a model that they saw, thinking ‘That’s incredible, I can’t wait for it to be built.’ ‘And now it’s downstairs!’ Abigail added, with the group exhibiting great excitement for the play to finally open.
Having worked from 10am to 6pm daily for nearly three weeks now, the outcome of all the New Theatre’s hard work is impressive. ‘I think all of us have a really clear view of this little fictional Verona we’ve created.’ Abigail told me, with Alessia mentioning that the intensive rehearsals have been amazing for the ‘world-building’ of the play. This concept seems important to director Nic Harvey, with the direction in rehearsals focusing closely on getting the actors to really understand their characters.
‘Nic has asked us to dissect our relationship with every single character.’ Stella detailed. A particular character-building activity that seemed to stand out to all involved was a ‘speed-dating’ event, where each actor improvised how their character would interact with others. A highlight of this seemed to be when more volatile characters such as Tybalt and Mercutio confronted one another and began yelling.
They revised how they interpreted the text through ideas of gender and patriarchy
‘Everyone brings so much nuance and depth to the characters – the scene can be so emotionally devastating but you will laugh, because of the choices that the actors make; they just know so perfectly how to balance that!’ Abigail said. Despite the tense atmosphere between a lot of the characters in the play, the cast seems to have incredible chemistry. When asking those I interviewed about the scenes they love most, the general consensus across the cast was that the classic interactions between Romeo and Juliet are their favourites, with Stella and David as the leads being a pair that ‘compliment each other really well.’
‘It sounds silly to say, but it is really well written,’ Alessia laughed, ‘The humour in it is so clever, and the tragic elements are so harrowing, and a lot of that comes from the language.’ This close evaluation of the text, performed in its traditional Early Modern English, has led to the directorial team cutting some of the lines. ‘We tried not to fight against the text.’ Ana told me, explaining how some of the lines were either repetitive or didn’t speak to the version of the character that they had envisioned for this particular production. Alessia explained how some of the Friar’s lines were omitted due to their misogynistic undertones; ‘in our version he’s quite anti-establishment and he wouldn’t really support the patriarchy.’
Ana told me that they revised how they interpreted the text through ideas of gender and patriarchy, as the play often centres around these conflicts. Drawing on the dismantling of misogynistic ideas in the text, Stella detailed how she wants to exhibit the nuance of Juliet’s character. ‘I love the scenes where I can show that Juliet isn’t just the lead woman who falls in love with the guy then sadly dies,’ she said, ‘She’s fighting everything, it’s her against the world.’
The production has come to life with the help of some incredible teams behind the scenes. Primarily, the team credit designer Emily Bonnet for their incredible work with the set design. ‘It’s like woodland scenery, but it’s not naturalistic.’ Abigail commented. A lot of work has gone into the costumes for the production too, from the colour-coordination of the houses of Capulet and Montague, right down to the finer details, like how Emily dyed a lot of the costumes by hand with natural materials, making every single piece of clothing unique.
‘It’s just quite cheeky, quite lovable!’
On top of this, the production has invited fighting director Ian Stapleton to rehearsals to help choreograph combat scenes between the characters. ‘It’s kind of terrifying to watch!’ Abigail exclaimed, explaining how although they knew it was staged, onlookers couldn’t help but be shocked by the realism of some of the more violent scenes. ‘But how often do you get a fighting director in and teach you how to do this stuff?’ Ana added. As if learning those skills wasn’t enough, the actors were taught a dance choreography for the infamous scene at the ball, where Romeo and Juliet first meet- a scene where more incredible costuming comes into play through intricately made masks for each attendee.
‘I’m just really excited for people to see it now, just because I’ve seen it so many times,’ Abigail told me. ‘I’ve seen all the aspects come together, and I’m ready to see and hear audience reactions to this now.’ As the play is usually read in schools, the cast understand the importance of doing the story justice on the stage, the way it was intended.
‘Shakespeare should be accessible! It shouldn’t be this thing that’s distant and only for academics.’ Stella exclaimed, with Maisie adding that the play is a ‘coming-of-age story’ of sorts, even if you can’t relate to some of the more unlikely scenarios the play presents. ‘It’s just quite cheeky, quite loveable!’ Alessia rounded off, encapsulating the pure joy of seeing Shakespeare’s works come to life through the vibrant characters, and compelling content of the play itself.
You can see Nottingham New Theatre’s Romeo and Juliet at the Djanogly Theatre at Lakeside Arts from the 2nd to the 6th May 2023, including two matinee shows on Wednesday the 3rd and Saturday the 6th. General admission costs £15, with student tickets costing only £5, available via the link here.
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