A life-size bronze statue of the North East’s favourite Shakespeare character, Mercutio, will be unveiled at the Theatre Royal by Royal Shakespeare Company star Jonjo O’Neill on Monday 23 April as part of the Theatre’s 175 Birthday celebrations.

Last year the folk of the North East voted Romeo & Juliet’s Mercutio their favourite Shakespeare character in a pan-regional poll carried out by the Theatre Royal and The Journal. An open search was launched to find an artist to create a bronze statue of the winning character to be displayed in the Theatre foyer, and local sculptor Lisa Delarny won the commission. Now the sculpture is finished and will be revealed at 11am on 23 April 2012, Shakespeare’s birthday, by Jonjo O’Neill, an actor with the RSC who played the role of Mercutio to critical acclaim in the Company’s 2010 season at the Theatre Royal.

It is constructed in clay but cast in bronze, and standing at a height of nearly 7 ft is a fitting celebration of the North East’s (and particularly the Theatre Royal’s) special relationship with Shakespeare.

The first poll of its kind ever taken in a UK region, Vote for Shakespeare was launched in partnership with The Journal in September 2010, ran for a total of 27 weeks, accumulated 2000 votes and announced tragic free spirit Mercutio as the winner on 23 April 2011. He crossed the line just 40 votes ahead of Hamlet. Theatre staff believe that a large proportion of Mercutio’s votes were due to the powerful and critically-acclaimed performance given by heartthrob actor Jonjo O’Neill in the 2010 production. O’Neill’s spirited interpretation of the quick-witted, ‘mercurial’ and charismatic friend of love-struck Romeo, who appears in only four scenes, is thought to have captured the imagination of many and particularly inspired younger voters.

Sculptor Lisa Delarny has been making figurative sculpture for many years and as well as carrying out major private commissions nationally and internationally, she has done local works for the QE hospital in Gateshead. The statue has taken over two months to construct and will now take up residence in the foyer of the Theatre Royal.

“This commission attracted me because of its theatrical nature.” Said Delarny. “Gesture and body language have been a continuing theme in my work as a sculptor, so the challenge was to make something specific to the character and the location. The choice of Mercutio as a chosen subject - 'the loveable rogue' does somehow seems also very appropriate for the city of Newcastle! “It took some time to arrive at this image, which is, I hope playful and cunning, revealing the character’s mischievous and clever nature and wit. “Having lived in the North for some 20 years or so, I am really pleased to have had the opportunity to make a permanent contribution to the town’s cultural identity. And of course hope it is well received.”

Richard Berg-Rust, Director of Development at the Theatre Royal, said: “We are very excited about the unveiling of the statue – not only are we immortalising one of Shakespeare’s greatest and most captivating characters, but we are marking the region’s love of Shakespeare and our own very special relationship with The Bard in this, our 175th Birthday year. Lisa has created a wonderful piece – the sculpture is the perfect embodiment of Mercutio, showing a figure that is witty, playful and irresistible while also hinting at that darker, almost prophet-like intuition which foreshadows his untimely demise. To have Jonjo here as our guest of honour is a real treat and very appropriate – his performance was outstanding and significantly influenced the voting. He helped immortalise the character in his own right!”

Philip Bernays, Chief Executive at the Theatre Royal, said: “This is a big year for Shakespeare – hot on the heels of our statue unveiling, the RSC are back in the city with a new production of Julius Cesar in July as part of the World Shakespeare Festival in celebration of the Cultural Olympiad. The Bard has never been bigger, and there has never been a better time to celebrate and rediscover his works - we are very proud to be helping lead the vanguard in the North East!”

The Theatre Royal has a long and distinguished relationship with the works of Shakespeare. The Grey Street Theatre opened 175 years ago in 1837 with a performance of The Merchant of Venice and Shakespeare has a permanent place in the theatre, appearing at the centre of the proscenium arch, watching over each performance.

Brian Aitken, editor of The Journal, commented: “We are very excited to see the finished sculpture as voted for by Journal readers - the campaign has been very successful and has shown once again just how important the arts and the Theatre Royal are to the people of the North East.” Actor Jonjo O’Neill said of the sculpture: “Lisa has captured a tormented spirit: all bravado, all hiding.”

The public are invited to attend the launch at 11am on Monday 23 April, and visit the statue anytime thereafter.