Romeo and Juliet fighting its way to Norwich stage

Acclaimed Icarus Theatre returns to Norwich next week with a punchy production of Romeo and Juliet that fights for our emotions. SIMON PARKIN reports.

Following on from the success of Macbeth, the highly acclaimed Icarus Theatre Collective return to the Norwich Playhouse next week with a bold and exciting new production of Shakespeare's most tragic tale — Romeo and Juliet.

The story, of course, needs little introduction — it's a takle of love and loss familiar to us all. In defiance of their families and in secrecy from their closest friends, star-crossed lovers hide their passion and sexuality from their warring families, the Montagues and Capulets, and their closest friends.

Misadventure, family pride, and ancient quarrels abort and bury the most joyous of beginnings, the most hopeful of love stories as Romeo and Juliet, driven apart, find their world becoming a constricting mausoleum of fate and death.

Theatre companies worldwide have tackled Shakespeare's infamous classic hoping to put their own take on the very familiar tale through endless interpretations, venturing between many genres and theatrical forms, from ice ballets to large-scale professionally-choreographed dance shows.

Icarus launched in 2004 and has gone on to be lauded as one of the most fearless and dynamic young theatre companies in the UK. The company's productions have won countless accolades including Time Out's Critics Choice, as well as receiving great praise from critics and audiences alike and winning awards from as far afield as Romania.

Their reputation for punchy and vibrant productions of contemporary and classic theatre continues to grow — and their take on this most classic of plays adds to that.

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Icarus artistic director Max Lewendel exploits the two halves of the play to set two entirely different tones. Comedy in the first half gives way as Romeo and Juliet steal the spotlight in the second and tragedy floods in and the tears flood out.

The production also trims the fat to leave in the juiciest bits that are central to the plot, resulting in a fast-paced soul-stirring emotional two hours.

It also boasts a talent and enthusiastic young cast headed by Kaiden Dubois and Katrina Gibson as Romeo and Juliet, with Christopher Smart as Benvolio, David McLaughlin as Mercutio and Gabrielle Dempsey in a case of gender role reversal, plays Tybalt.

Katrina Gibson said she was eager to play Juliet. 'I think the roles are so iconic and Juliet is a role I've always wanted to play,' she said.

'It's a role that most young actresses aspire to play at some point, because she's so passionate and they're such complex characters for such a young age. There is so much depth to the characters and how much happens so quickly, it's very exciting to play.

Kaiden Dubois was equally keen. 'I love Romeo he's like this little yappy puppy who goes from one extreme to another, such a vibrant character.

'It's probably one of the best roles in theatre not just in Shakespeare. Also the verse is just so beautiful; it's some of Shakespeare's most poetic language.'

The production debuted in Portsmouth three weeks ago and the response has so far been positive.

'It's been great to get it in front of an audience,' said Katrina. 'It's great in rehearsal and to play around with things, but it's different once you bring it to life.'

The production includes several fight scenes, perhaps taking inspiration from the line 'violent delights have violent ends...'

It's something that the young cast have been excited to be involved in. 'Our first fight call, which is something entirely new to me and it was really exciting to get a rapier and dagger and be doing something entirely different,' said Katrina.

Fight director Ronin Traynor added: 'Romeo and Juliet is obviously one of the most famous Shakespeare plays, so the fights have been done hundreds of times. I've kind of taken inspiration from what the actor's abilities are. We've cast people specifically because they can fight and we've got all the actors at some point fighting during the show.'

How did he get actors to look like they'd been fighting for years? 'They were pretty good to start off with — they've had training at drama school or varying degrees, so some roles we needed to make sure people had a really good foundation before we cast them,' he said.

'The roles of Tybalt and Mercutio are really important for that, and Romeo to a certain extent as well. We were very fortunate to have a very good cast on board together with some generic training to bring everyone to the same page and took things on from there.'

And does he have a favourite fight scene? 'The fight between Tybalt and Mercutio is epic in terms of its length. We've not tried to shorten it and there is a nice escalation of desperateness within it, so I quite like that in terms of storytelling.

'I also like the opening fight as its two on one and it's a bit more showy to give a bit more energy to the opening of the show. I think the cast had a lot of fun doing that …'

t Romeo and Juliet, Norwich Playhouse, October 17-18, �14 (�12 cons), �8.50 student groups, 01603 598598,