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Romeo And Juliet - Shakespeare's Globe Comes to Glasgow

Open-air Shakepeares are a summer-time perennial of the theatre calendar, attracting picnicking audiences as much as midges. More often than not, such romps through the grass are frothy, heritage industry affairs designed to be accompanied by strawberries and cream and not to be taken too seriously. Shakespeare’s Globe theatre company look set to change such perceptions when they open their outdoor tour of Romeo And Juliet in Glasgow next week as part of the West End festival.

For the two young actors taking the title roles of the doomed lovers, it will also be something of a homecoming. Richard Madden and Ellie Piercy both studied in Glasgow prior to turning professional. Indeed, Madden has yet to graduate from the acting course at RSAMD, and, as well as facing the pressures of playing such a meaty role in close proximity to the audience, will have the added anxiety of being assessed and graded by his tutors.

“This is the end of my third year,” says Madden following a Saturday morning run-through of Romeo And Juliet. “Third year is all based on productions anyway, so I’m being examined on this production in exactly the same way as I would be if I was doing a college production. The difference is that I get to work professionally alongside older actors, and get to observe how things are done and keep learning from that.”

Despite only being aged 20, Madden already has a strong track record as an actor, having previously taken time out from his studies to appear at The Citizens Theatre in Franz Xavier Kroetz’s play, Tom Fool. Claire Lizziemore’s production was such a hit that it transferred to London, where Madden was spotted by The Globe team.

Born and brought up in Elderslie near Paisley, Madden joined PACE, Paisley Arts Centre’s youth theatre, aged 11, and notched up early appearances in the big-screen adaptation of Iain Banks’ novel, Complicity, alongside Jonny Lee Miller. Later he graduated to a lead role in My Barmy Aunt Boomerang, the children’s TV series starring Toyah Wilcox. Getting to play one of the great romantic leads, though, is a step up for Madden.

“He’s such a complicated young man,” he says of Romeo. “But it’s quite good, and, because I’m young as well, I thought I wouldn’t be able to play someone like him until I’d had some kinds of similar experiences. What I’m finding out, though, is that I can use my age to my advantage. He’s still trying to find his place in the world, and is somewhere between a boy and a man. In terms of finding my place as an actor, I’m in that position as well. Romeo scares me and confuses me sometimes, because he’s trying to find his identity. He really messes your head up.”

The cause of such mental anguish is Ellie Piercy’s Juliet. As a 26 year old graduate of RADA who previously studied Cultural Studies, specialising in English Literature and Theatre, at Glasgow University, Piercy is something of an older woman who readily admits that “Romeo is my toy-boy.”

Adding to her comparatively worldly wise demeanour, she also points out that “Last time I was in the Quad was when I was doing my exams.”

While in Glasgow, Piercy’s extra-curricular activities included involvement with Push Bar To Open theatre company, devising work with a young company that included a pre-Snuff Davey Anderson cutting his theatre-making teeth. Alongside Madden, Piercy also became involved in the early days of the now established Bard In the Botanics seasons of open-air Shakespeares, playing Helena in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and had her first stab at playing Juliet.

“That was a different character then,” Piercy says. “Now it’s a different time, and for me it’s a different story. I don’t mean that to be in any way intended as disrespectful to Bard In The Botanics, but I was younger then, and hadn’t trained as an actress. What I was learning then was about how to go deeper into an art-form that you love. I was lucky then to be exploring site-specific based work and all kinds of other things that have held me in good stead. At Glasgow I found the academic side of things quite hard, but I was so lucky getting to explore the things that I did. You can never get enough information.”

How all this translates into this new open-air Romeo And Juliet remains to be seen. Artistic Director of Shakespeare’s Globe Dominic Dromgoole has every faith in director Edward Dick and his young cast. Neither is he overly concerned with any preconceptions of it as museum-bound Shakespeare-lite for the fizzy drinks set.”

“There’s an incredibly unwarranted Puritanism in English and Scottish theatre,” he points out, “that suggests that theatre can’t be something that’s pleasurable. There’s a sense of aggression against pleasure from elements that think theatre should purely be gritty and dour and instructive. I think that’s nonsense personally. Strawberries and cream is pleasant. Sitting on the lawn in the sun is pleasant, and I welcome that. People can bring drugs if they want. They can bring drink if they want. They can bring strawberries and cream if they want. As long as they bring it in the spirit of pleasure, I don’t mind.”

Romeo And Juliet, University Of Glasgow Quadrangle, June 19-24 (not Sat) 8pm, June 24, 3pm
www.westendfestival.co.uk

The Herald - June 12th 2007

ends

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