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Liverpool Everyman, Director Nick Bagnall: “I had a woman sharply point at me and decry: ‘There’s no room for rock and roll in Shakespeare’”

Nick Bagnall

Nick Bagnall

We are all familiar with Romeo and Juliet. The Everyman Company and actors from Liverpool’s Young Everyman Playhouse are uniting to celebrate Shakespeare’s brutal tale of love and family. Director, Nick Bagnall has come out of rehearsals and is in a buoyant mood. “Rehearsals are going fantastically well. I’ve done a big edit of the play and made bold decisions with the casting,” he says. “Time is short, so I’m filling the production with ensemble and song.”

George Caple and Elliot Kingsley play the star-crossed lovers, in a conceptual reimagining involving a gender switch of Romeo and Julius. There has been a lot of gender-blind casting in Shakespeare over the past year or so – Tamsin Greig played Malvolia at the National, The all-female trilogy at the Donmar; Glenda Jackson’s King Lear  at the Old Vic and many more. This contemporary view of the play will be applied to Bagnall’s fast paced production where bloodshed on the streets and arranged marriage are common place.

Romeo & Juliet

Romeo & Juliet

Is Bagnall prepared for backlash from traditionalists? “I’m never surprised by the purists. They always say something that is slightly rigid. Ultimately, when I’m making work I like to be anarchic and playful,” he says defiantly. “The young people who are in the company – of which there are over forty – are incredible and they are blown away by the gender swap. It’s rather beautiful and its given it a vitality that I really hoped it would. I relocated Shakespeare to the swinging 60’s in my recent production of Two Gentlemen of Verona at The Globe,” he laughs. “I had a woman sharply point at me and decry: ‘There’s no room for rock and roll in Shakespeare’ – I’m totally prepared for backlash!”

What is fantastic about this production is that it is made with and for young people. The Liverpool Everyman’s children, and young people are at the heart of the show’s process. “Young Everyman Playhouse (YEP) are the best youth theatre in the land”, he says. “They are an incredible bunch of young people. I have to say that, for them, just being in a room with professional actors, it’s very clear how much they are learning; they bring a unique energy to proceedings. My biggest aim with this is about demystifying Shakespeare for young people and to create something that they can relate to when it comes to living in Liverpool in 2017.”

We’ve all seen the story of Juliet and Romeo test the patience of audiences more than perhaps any other Shakespeare play. So why is Bagnall’s any different, why should we come along? “Because its open-hearted, sexy and vital storytelling,” he says. “I have a fantastic cast and an electric bunch of young people. It’s rock and roll… Oh and there’s even a bit of Indian dub-step.”

Romeo and Juliet runs Saturday 27 May to Wednesday 7 June at Liverpool Everyman

Rehearsal images Gallery below. Photographs by Brian Roberts