When Manchester’s Library Theatre merged with art-house cinema Cornerhouse to form Home – which opens in an impressive £25 million building next spring – it wasn’t just a case of new name, same company. In the middle of its first season, new creative director Walter Meierjohann has completely ripped up its predecessor’s staid template with the site-specific Romeo & Juliet that is inventive, modern, and, at times, downright stunning.
The promenade performance is set in an old Georgian bathhouse oozing faded grandeur. Right from the overture, Meierjohann makes quite the statement of intent. Montagues and Capulets emerge from changing stalls either side of the emptied ‘women’s pool’ in which some of the audience stand, and fight on a bridge in the middle, which doubles as a stage for Act I. Romeo Alex Felton, dressed like the frontman of an indie band, quickly snorts something to embolden himself for the Capulet party.
It’s that kind of production, but one which completely understands the exuberance of youth – most obviously in the energetic performances from Lewis Goody and Ncuti Gatwa of Romeo’s mates Benvolio and Mercutio – and the fizz of young love. Felton and Sara Vickers are enthralling as the star-cross’d lovers, and the presence of dramaturg Petra-Jane Tauscher teases out added meaning.
This Romeo & Juliet is definitely a visual rather than literary spectacle, but the quite magical final scene in the main pool full of water barely needs lines. It’s rare to see people walking into a theatre space shaking their heads with awe and wonder, but Meierjohann achieves just that.
Verdict: A modern Romeo and Juliet for a new company, Meierjohann sets an enthralling marker down for the future. Can’t all site-specific theatre be like this?
- Victoria Baths, Manchester
- September 10-October 4, PN Sep 17
- Author: William Shakespeare
- Director: Walter Meierjohann
- Design: Ti Green set, Mike Gunning lighting, Paul Gregory sound
- Technical: Louis Hammond casting director, Mia Theil Have Movement Director, Kendrick Sandy choreography, Wyllie Longmore voice coach, Petra-Jane Tauscher dramaturg
- Cast includes: Alex Felton, Sara Vickers, Rachel Atkins, Damien Myerscough, Lewis Goody, Ncuti Gatwa
- Producer: Sara Robinson
- Running time: 3hrs 10mins