What if Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet had told a different story? Tybalt and Mercutio. Sworn enemies. Secret lovers. Separated by family feuds but drawn together by an unexpected love and passion that cannot be ignored…or admitted.
This critically-acclaimed play by Rachel Garnet brings a whole new life to the tale of the starcrossed lovers. This is Shakespeare like you’ve never seen!
This is Shakespeare like you’ve never seen!
We chat with the cast!
Gethin Alderman (The Player)
Tell us a little about your role in the play as The Player – someone we don’t see in the original play.
The show doesn’t shy away from the fact that it is theatre and so the audience sees us at the start as actors. Then, as Connor and Tommy become Mercutio and Tybalt, The Player is the base from which I play 8 other characters including many favourites from Romeo and Juliet: Benvolio, Lord Capulet, Friar Laurence, Paris, Romeo…
Part of the draw to a Shakespearean production is the lavish period costumes. Tell us a little about the costuming of this production?
We have some wonderful period costumes. Mercutio’s is a dazzling two-piece – I’m very jealous it isn’t one of mine. Of course, playing so many roles I have quite a few costumes and hopefully, the audience will be surprised at how quickly we have to change from one to another.
Wilton’s Music Hall is such an iconic venue. How will it feel taking to the stage in a place steeped in history?
Wilton’s is one of the most magical venues in London. They had done a great job to make sure you, as audience and performer, feel the heritage and history of the venue. It’s a monument to the escapism we look for when we go to the theatre – a chance to travel to another time, another place, away from the everyday.
Have you learned anything unexpected from director Philip Wilson in the rehearsal process?
Having Philip guide us through the play has allowed us to draw on his extensive Shakespearean knowledge. He made the text so accessible to us so quickly that we were able to play and grow the show in what was quite a short and rapid rehearsal process. The rehearsal room was full of joy and never felt a rush despite all that we had to get through. It shows that when you plan well, you can do anything.
This story was originally told just across the river here in London over four centuries ago. Why has this one in particular stuck with audiences over the years?
The ultimate inspiration for Romeo and Juliet is believed to go back even further to Ovid back in ancient Rome! Stories of love, lost love and forbidden love speak to so many people in so many contexts and strike a chord with love one of the core human needs and wants. The story also connects us to our history in a relatable way and it’s so well written that, even when you know the plot, you always hope it will turn out differently this time.
Connor Delves (Mercutio)
British people take Shakespeare very seriously. What do you hope that London audiences take from the play?
They do! As well as taking it seriously, I think there is a passion associated with Shakespearean work in this country that brings real focus to their execution. It’s a good thing. I hope that London audiences are able to feel a sense of expansion and excitement from Starcrossed. It’s a daring new piece that is full of wit and risks. There is a genuine belief amongst the team that we can not only bring new audiences to this style and story context but also shed new light on a story we seemingly know so well. It raises questions of love and individual experience in a way that is so vulnerable and real…I do hope audiences take a personal connection to it with them.
We rarely see LGBT+ love stories set more than fifty years ago, in a time before queer liberation. Have you come across any interesting historical accounts in preparing for the role?
The journey of these characters is vulnerable, specific and of course related to the original Shakespearean piece we know oh so well. There is a particular line in the play, that Mercutio utters whilst watching the sun rise, about his wish for “children in 5oo years to be so free and safe, from all our fears”. It’s this sentiment that rumbles through the play and really gives context to the impact this kind of forbidden love has. There are absolutely key figures and inspirations that I have delved into whilst finding this version of Mercutio. The bravery he exhibits as a man willing to be sexually fluid and free in a society that looks down upon it, is inspiring and wonderful. For the sake of being brief, I’ll mention Ian McKellan. His bravery, confidence and navigation of his career as the outstanding man he is, was something I studied with admiration.
Having originated the role back in 2018, has your understanding of the character developed or changed over time?
Of course! The beauty of continually working on the text is that my understanding of Mercutio has deepened, as has my experience as a person. Both of these factors have added to my understanding of the text and character of Mercution and how it might be infused into the piece itself.
If a reader currently finds themselves in a forbidden romance, what advice would you give them?
I think the most important thing in life, ultimately, is love. Connection..human connection, is essential and shouldn’t ever be forbidden, in any form. It’s not my place to give advice to anyone really, but I think it’s paramount that we as humans do everything we can to build a society that accepts love in any and all ways. Forbidden and love are two words that should not coexist.
I say to anyone that feels there love is forbidden…you are loved, you are valid and there are people in the world that want you to live your life in a free and treasured way. We must all work for that. For everyone.
Have you performed for British audiences before? If so, what are they key differences between us and American audiences?
I toured to the UK as a 14 year old, with a theatre group (wild experience…haha). So, to answer the first part of the question, briefly yes. Many of my colleagues in training and work have also been British, and as an Australian there are many similarities in our sensibilities.
Having lived and worked in the United States for 8 years now, I definitely notice a difference in the audiences. As with any culture. I would say all the stereotypical differences that a theatre goer might expect between the two countries’ audiences, is somewhat true. So I don’t need to expand on that. I would say the real delight of performing to different audiences is the challenge and excitement of live theatre. New people. New stories and a new context to play. What’s better than that? Oh…and please smile and laugh and clap and cry and listen and enjoy…it’s what the theatre is for. Maybe the Americans have the Brits covered in unapologetic enjoyment of live performance, and the Brits bring a deep focus and appreciation that makes us all feel rather special too!
Tommy Sim’aan (Tybalt)
Tribalism is key to Romeo and Juliet. Do you see any parallels between this story and the culture today?
Yeah absolutely. There will always be a spectrum of beliefs and views in any society, and the opposite ends of this spectrum will – more often than not – not see eye to eye. I think something the play highlights is the importance of trying to understand why we hold these beliefs, and how they can influence us. Tybalt says ‘tis the principal, not the reason’, when asked why he upholds his hate in the context of the Montague-Capulet feud (as he doesn’t actually know how/why it started), and I think this sort of intense, unquestioning stance can be found in various guises everywhere. Rigidity can lead to conflict, because it stops us listening to each other, and prioritises a self-involved need to be ‘right’, to prove your point of view is ‘correct’; because if you question something you hold to be a given, then you may have to question your whole way of viewing the world. Whether in Romeo & Juliet, Starcrossed, down the pub, anywhere there’s people, there will be a range of views, and there is always the potential for these views to clash and potentially solidify/become more distanced if a polarising context arises. Likewise though, if you have a context that encourages discussion and engagement with one another, there’s always potential for learning, flexibility and growth.
We know in the original that Tybalt stabs Mercutio under Romeo’s arm. How is this grappled with in Rachel Garnet’s reimagining?
I don’t want to give too much away, but it is still very much a mistake (you’d hope), and much more heartbreaking.
As a skilled martial artist and swordsman, can we expect some impressive combat scenes with this production?
Yeah there are some really exciting swordfights in this production. We had the brilliant Haruka Kuroda choreographing our fights, assisted by Lawrence Carmichael who is also great, and between them, they’ve come up with some fantastic storytelling sequences, that are sprinkled with sexy moves.
In this duo’s final scene, Tybalt walks in on Mercutio trash-talking him… have you ever had an awkward run-in with someone who hears you talking about them?
This might be really boring, but not that I can think of. I’ve definitely accidentally sent texts to people they weren’t meant for – like when you’re thinking about them/talking about them and then you just enter their name in the address bit because you’re not concentrating. Makes me sweat that. It’s like checking your phone to see if you haven’t butt-dialed someone when they come up in conversation!
Is it an important project to go back and queer recognisable characters and figures through history?
Absolutely. The majority of stories that comprise our cultural DNA represent a specific experience; usually a cis white hetero one. If we can diversify this pool of stories that influence how we see the world – and therein ourselves – socially and emotionally we will be a lot healthier. I think though it’s as much about new writing as it is about historical writing; blending the two, as Rachel does in Starcrossed, means that you can incorporate modern understanding/awareness into a well-known context and create a story that touches all. I don’t think it’s about queering recognisable characters for the sake of it (although this could be a lot of fun), but creating new stories within relatable contexts to reflect true experiences.
Starcrossed is showing at Wilton Music Hall, Graces Alley, London E1 8JB until June 25th.