Twists on Shakespeare’s classic Romeo & Juliet are no new thing. But more than 400 years after it was written, surely it has been done to death? The success of &Juliet recently proved there are still more twists on one of the most famous stories of all time to be told. Starcrossed is another new take, though this time with a unique selling point, giving us the untold love story of characters Mercutio and Tybalt in what is a truly intriguing twist.
Having premiered at the New York International Fringe Festival in 2019, where it won critical acclaim, Starcrossed has crossed the Atlantic for its UK premiere at the gorgeous Wilton’s Music Hall in fair Shadwell where we lay our scene - the only surviving Grand Music Hall and a Grade II* Listed building. If the right setting can amplify the events on a stage, this is a case of it doing so perfectly – with the classic feel of the place taking us back to a simpler time.
Putting Mercutio and Tybalt in the heart of a story is an inspired touch. While anyone familiar with the original knows it is not going to have a happy ending, Starcrossed gives us the imagined backstory of the pair, leading up to their fateful ends. All the while, the events of Romeo & Juliet play out in the background with other characters making fleeting appearances and significant events forming parts of the narrative.
The writing by Rachel Garnet’s brings new life to Shakespeare’s verse, bringing in up to date for the modern age. Classic excerpts are dialogue are played out, joined by new writing which flows seamlessly. Full of heart and humour, the writing in Starcrossed is what makes this such a captivating watch. The occasional use of songs throughout the play ensures the narrative remains exciting and varied throughout.
Mercutio is played by Connor Delves, reprising the role he originated in New York. A wonderful performer, he ensures all eyes are on him with a fantastic character performance as he flounces around the stage while relishing the ability to get his tongue around some fabulous dialogue. As Tybalt, Tommy Sim’aan is brilliantly understated and the perfect counterpart to Connor’s exaggerated Mercutio. Excellent in his subtle portrayal, he brings a sense of believability as the serious character who questions everything he knows when he falls for Mercutio. Together, the pair display a chemistry that leaps off the stage and leaves you rooting for them (Spoiler alert: It won’t end well).
A third actor joins the pair on stage throughout the play, as Gethin Alderman, credited only as “The Player” takes on every other role in the play. From Lord Capulet to Benvolio to Romeo to even Juliet, he shows an enormous amount of versatility as he effortlessly transitions from one character to the other – in one memorable scene, even playing two of them at the same time.
Directed by Philip Wilson, the action is played out in a refreshingly pacey manner, managing to achieve the remarkable feat of telling the full story of the two lovers in under two hours (including an interval) while never compromising on the believability of it or rushing it. The use of simple props and costume design from Ruari Murchison brings the performance to life.
As seemingly carefree as it may be to witness, the theme of the pair having to keep their forbidden relationship secret and the dire consequences of doing so can be seen far more seriously when considering hundreds of years later, attitudes to homosexuality are still problematic with it still inexplicably being illegal in some countries, even punishable by death in some. This puts the text in a different perspective and confirms the importance of LGBTQ+ stories being told, especially when looking at historical texts. While these themes are never explicitly stated in the play, it does give serious food for thought, and ensures Starcrossed has more depth than at first it might appear.
A bold new take on an absolute classic, Starcrossed is a truly beautiful piece of theatre. It may not sound like something that will work on paper but it really does need to be seen to be believed. Hilarious with a whole lot of heart, this is a beautiful story with some remarkable acting ensuring that Starcrossed is a resounding success.
Starcrossed plays at Wilton’s Music Hall until June 25th. Tickets from https://starcrossedtheplayuk.com/
Photos by Pamela Raith