Pilot Theatre’s production of Romeo & Juliet opened on Friday at York Theatre Royal; the first port of call in a countrywide tour that extends to April 2011. Bryn Holding (Benvolio) and William Travis (Capulet, or “Daddy C”) take time out to discuss the show and Shakespeare's relevance to a modern audience…


Both Bryn and William are clearly looking forward to taking their show on the road. Says Bryn: “We’re off on an epic tour. We’re yo-yoing around the country. We go from York to Yeovil, then to Sterling, then to the Channel Islands. This leg will last until the end of November, we’ll break for Christmas and then start again in London in February and run through until April. We’re playing some great theatres.” He adds: “We’re very lucky in this current climate to be going out on such as big tour.”

That is not to say they aren’t equally thrilled to be opening in York and, especially, at the Theatre Royal. Says Bryn: “It’s a privilege to be here…It’s a great, great theatre.” William agrees: “It’s got a huge amount of heritage as well; the very age of it – you can almost sense the ghosts of the past there with you on the stage.” Of being in the city itself, William adds: “It’s a fabulous, fabulous place to be to do Shakespeare. Everywhere you walk there’s references to Richard III and it’s just wonderful.”

So, given the town’s links to the Bard, is there any trepidation about putting on one his most famous works here? Not according to William: “It’s a play we already know works; that’s the beauty of it. There’s none of that angst about how the audience is going to take it. It’s been proven for hundreds and hundreds of years. This is a play that is going to work. It’s a fabulous story, brilliantly told and beautifully written so you can’t really go wrong. It’s naturally a joy and a pleasure.” Adds Bryn: “It’s finding your way into it really; finding your version of that story.”

It is clear much work has gone into creating this version of the play. In an innovative twist on the original, the story is told through the eyes of Lady Capulet, which, says Bryn, gives “a real pace to it”. William adds: “It’s very much her narrative, which works brilliantly.” Furthermore, says Bryn: “There’s only eight actors in the company, so some characters are missing. We have both Capulet parents but not the Montagues, so Benvolio represents the Montague family.”

The hope is that these changes will introduce the timeless love story, and perhaps even Shakespeare’s other works, to a new audience. “For example, knife fights are a very contemporary issue,” says Bryn, “and there’s a modern feel to the language, so you’re not presented with a 16th century version of it.” William agrees: “Love, sex, hate, anger… They’re all in there. The feuds, the battles, the warring… When Shakespeare wrote it was a modern story and it still is today – which is why it’s been done so many times and in so many different guises, from Grease to West Side Story.”

Neither actor is a newcomer to the Bard, but William admits he hasn’t done “nearly as much as he’d have liked to”. But ironically, he says: “One of the first shows I ever did was Romeo & Juliet playing Tybalt, so I’ve come full circle to play his uncle, which is a bit weird as they are very similar in their attitudes.” While William continues to enjoy a long and varied career on both stage and screen, his first love is clear. “When I was 13 I wasn’t doing television, I was doing theatre.” He continues: “For my soul it’s always theatre and always has been. But that said I’ve done some fabulous theatre and some fabulous television as well. I’ve just been working on This is England ’86. What an awesome way to work, with Shane (Meadows). It’s just the way to do it. It’s the way you should be doing television and film.” But in terms of working in the theatre he goes on to cite a “whole host of things” that separates it from acting on screen. “It’s the tour, the chronology of it; the fact that you don’t have to break scenes up. It’s a much more creative process in theatre, which is why you do it!”

For his part, Bryn believes that he’s been “very lucky that all my work since I graduated in 2008 has been theatre”. He continues: “Oddly, the actor who plays Romeo, Oliver Wilson, he and I did our first job after drama school together, exactly two years ago. That was a small company at the Royal Shakespeare Company, so it’s been great to reunite and have go at a full play and a full tour.”

Prior to opening, both actors enjoyed a “fabulous” four weeks rehearsal and are now, according to Bryn, “absolutely” ready for the run in York and subsequent tour. So, why should audiences flock to Pilot’s production of Romeo & Juliet? Says Bryn: “If you’ve seen Romeo & Juliet before, then come and see this because it will be different. There’s something for everyone. If you can’t catch us in York, catch us on tour.” Or, in William’s words, to sum it up even more succinctly, people should go along “because we’re awesome”!

- Hannah Giles

Romeo & Juliet is playing at York Theatre Royal from 10 to 25 September 2010. For tickets and further information contact the Box Office on 01904 623568, or visit www.yorktheatreroyal.co.uk

Further details of the tour can be found at: www.youkissbythebook.com