Romeo and Juliet – Manchester Royal Exchange Theatre

Reviewed performance on 26th October 2023

I don’t usually start a review with a strong recommendation, but for this production of Romeo and Juliet I am glad to make an exception. This is an excellent show and well worth seeing if you can before the run ends on 18th November.

The Royal Exchange Theatre is a beautiful exchange building with its amazing, space age, staging space that is superb for performances in the round.

This new production directed by Nicholai La Barrie, and starring Shalisha James-Davis (Juliet) and Conor Glean (Romeo), takes Shakespeare’s tragic tale and places it into a Manchester with all of its modern sensibilities, its swagger and its language.

A photograph of the lead actors as Romeo and Juliet
Photo Credit: Johan Persson

The cast speak with authentic Manchester accents throughout and, although some purists might not like it, it effectively brings the story home to a modern audience in a northern city. When members of the Capulets, and Montagues, speak to their cousins the pronunciation “cuz” (with typical deep uh sound) feels very natural.

We began with a comic moment as the friar, apparently an audience member with ticket issues, argues with an usher before staggering onto the stage, shopping bags and all, to deliver the opening speech. The audience clearly enjoyed the small changes to the script to reference Manchester and when directions to Ashton Road were given there was lots of laughter.

The aggression and violence between the two families was portrayed with some gusto and weapons ranging from traditional swords to the more modern kitchen knives, baseball bats and even a Stanly knife. 

When delivering soliloquies the actors addressed the audience directly, often moving from person to person, making eye contact and really engaging with them. The audience were also engaged in the scene where Romeo sees and finally meets Juliet at a party in the Capulet’s castle, when audience members joined in with the dancing as Juliet acted as DJ and singer. The mood and action would have been in keeping with any present-day party or club in Manchester. Romeo meanwhile is the only one in the room who doesn’t want to dance and party, at least not until he has the chance to meet Juliet. 

In the original Shakespeare version Romeo goes to a poor and somewhat desperate apothecary to illegally buy his poison. Here, in a stroke of genius, Romeo goes to street drug dealers, dressed all in black as they circle the stage on their BMX bikes, and the deal is done in a way that is familiar to many of us who have seen such deals taking place on the streets.

The funeral scene was extraordinarily powerful with somber lighting, thunder and lightning flashes and water falling on stage as rain as the mourners gathered around the “dead” Juliet, protected by black umbrellas.

The story is tragic but there were times of absolute joy and comedy, and the director and actors hope to bring something new out of the story with hope and understanding. Romeo actor, Conor Glean, asked about what he’d like audiences to take away with them, said “I want them to come away and see a young couple walking down the street, holding hands, smiling at each other and I want them to be moved by that. I want them to look at the softness in the world and think ‘yo’, let’s give some more time to that, please’”. Co-star, Shalisha James-Davis, agreed, saying “Yeah, absolutely. Like, double-tap that!”. As a no-longer-young couple walking back to the station, holding hands and smiling at each other, I’d say we agree with that sentiment completely. 

The cast as a whole put on a great show and the outstanding performances for me included;

Conor Glean, who portrayed Romeo as a rough around the edges, thuggish young man who is changed when he falls in love with Juliet. His delivery of lines like “Love is heavy and light, bright and dark, hot and cold, sick and healthy, asleep and awake – it’s everything except what it is!” was direct and powerful, perhaps not the typical dramatic performance we might expect, but very effective indeed.

Lady Capulet, brilliantly played by Kate Hampson, as a female head of the family rather that the traditional patriarch, is exactly what you would expect from the matriarch of a Manchester gangster family, pushy and strong and able to switch from supportive to oppressive in an instant. This Lady Capulet is the kind of Manchester mum you wouldn’t want to cross.

The character of a dark and moody Mercutio from David Judge was delivered superbly. Judge became an intimidating gangster, with an attitude much larger than his stature, and could turn on a kind of sinister charm that in turn was even more unsettling.

The play runs until 18th November, at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester. As I said at the start of this review I suggest you should go and watch it if you get the chance.

Van Gogh Alive


“Van Gogh Alive The Experience”

Venue – Media City, Salford

Like most people I had been aware of Vincent van Gogh from secondary school onwards. Only after a visit to the National Gallery in London did I come to appreciate his art. On that day in a room full of stunning paintings by Monet, Cezanne, Renoir, Degas and Manet there was one painting that, for me, stole the show. That painting was on of Van Gogh’s series of paintings of sunflowers. I’d seen them in books and projected on screens and they hadn’t really impacted me. But on that day in 2003 this painting glowed almost as if it had been backlit, and I stood and looked closely at it before sitting on the bench to soak it in for a while. From that day I understood why Don MacLean had sung about Vincent and I wanted to know more.

Image of some of the screens with Van Gogh's images projected

Close up shot of enlarged section of painting

Over the next couple of years I was fortunate to visit the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, twice, where I learned a great deal more about the man, his art, his writing and of course his mental health. If he were a musician or a sportsman then you’d call me a fan. With that in mind when we saw the event in Media City advertised we were really keen to go along.

Salford is the latest of 75 cities world-wide to show this Van Gogh Alive multisensory experience that includes projected pictures, quotes and information and lots of moving images and video, all supported by a soundtrack of classical music.

With such a track record we hoped to be impressed. Before entering the main multimedia, exhibit there is a chance to see, and have a photo taken, in a replica of the Bedroom at Arles, made famous by his series of three paintings, where Van Gogh stayed 14 months, including two months when Paul Gaugin stayed and worked alongside him.

Stepping into the large exhibition space the first impression is of being surrounded by the colour palette and brush strokes of Vincent Van Gogh. Seeing the works magnified on the large screens gives a strong feel for his bold brushwork and revolutionary use of colour.

The experience charts his career as a painter which lasted just 9 years until his tragic death, aged 37 in 1890 at Auvers-Sur-Oise. Van Gogh was incredibly prolific, producing over 900 paintings, as well as almost 1300 drawings and sketches on paper. The experience showed a wide range of his work from the very famous self-portraits, his Japanese inspired works, and his works from Belgium, The Netherlands and France.

With projections on the multiple screens, and even on the floor, often simultaneously showing different images, videos and quotations at the same time it pays to move around to view the experience from different positions. A very clever touch is the projection of paintings with some elements animated, e.g. crows flying over the cornfields or petals falling from the blossoming almond tree. A smaller room is filled with artificial sunflowers and with mirrors all around, including the ceiling, creating a powerful impression of being surrounded by the flowers that Van Gogh famously painted.

When leaving the exhibit visitors are invited to have a go at drawing versions Starry Night (in 5 minutes) and Bedroom in Arles (in ten minutes) guided by video demonstrations. Standing drawing in front of lots of people isn’t for everyone but I had one of my favourite fountain pens with me so joined in, drawing so fast is a challenge but it was also fun and there was

Whether you have little or a lot of knowledge of the life and work of Vincent Van Gogh, perhaps one of the most influential modern artists, this experience is at once informative, entertaining, educational and powerfully moving.

Looking at art is good for the human spirit and as Vincent himself wrote “I have nature and art and poetry, and if that is not enough, what is enough?”

Image of some of the screens with Van Gogh's images projected

Further information can be found online at