Romeo and Juliet – Selly Park Girls School, Birmingham

Reviewer: Skylar Mabry

Writer: William Shakespeare

Adaptor: Robin Belfield

Director: Philip J Morris

Selly Park Girls’ is a secondary school serving over 700 students with innovative, passionate teaching. They have welcomed the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) into their school and are working in partnership with eight other schools in Birmingham to ensure that young people in our city are able to access high-quality theatre and learning opportunities.

RSC’s First Encounters: Romeo & Juliet is a high-energy, approachable production of one of Shakespeare’s most recognisable tragedies. Travelling with eight actors to schools and small theatres across the country, this show pares down the classic story into an accessible 90 minutes, designed for young audiences.

This version, although true to the classic story of the star-crossed lovers, takes a few subtle but effective liberties, the most effective of which is the role of a group of ten students from Selly Park Girls’ School as the Prince’s counsel. The students join the Prince as counters to his more severe remands, taking on a powerful, vocal role in the play. Students involved from Years 7-9 say they’ve learned about projection, adding humour into scenes, and making clear choices with their placement onstage. Other students, having watched their classmates, are now hoping to get the chance to perform in the next production, should First Encounters return to Selly Park.

The design and staging are deceptively simple – what appears at first glance to be a few boxes and a door beautifully transforms into bedrooms, balconies, and burial chambers. The eight cast members form a well-connected ensemble who know how to elicit reactions from their young audience. Qasim Mahmood (Mercutio/Prince) and Caitlin Drake (Nurse/Lady Montague) stand out as fan favourites who can pause for a laugh with the audience then command silence and attention in the next. With live music, intense fights, and lots of comedic moments, this show is an excellent first step into the world of theatre and Shakespeare onstage.

At the end of the performance, Drama teacher Rachel Gartside asked students if anything surprised them about the show. In what will most definitely be the subject of conversation for a long time to come, students mentioned the drama of the needless deaths and how enjoyable it was to see something they’d read in class brought to life onstage. Gartside is a passionate advocate for the arts and theatre in education. Both the Drama and English departments at Selly Park have worked diligently to make this valuable partnership with the RSC and other local schools possible, giving students a chance to access and increase their cultural capital.

The benefits of this collaboration continue as the 10 students from Selly Park Girls’ School will be featured in performances at the Swan Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon next week – an opportunity not soon to be forgotten. The RSC’s First Encounters programme continues, reaching schools across the country through April. The passion and enthusiasm of the teachers and students at Selly Park shows what can be achieved when national arts organisations commit to thoughtful, integrated work in education. With continued dedication and investment, productions like this will be accessible to young people for many years to come.

Reviewed on 19 March 2024

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The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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