A new production of Romeo and Juliet, starring Juliet Rylance, the daughter of actor and former Shakespeare’s Globe artistic director Mark Rylance, will run this summer for 30 performances only, from 20 August to 12 September 2008, at London’s Middle Temple Hall (pictured) as part of a year-long festival celebrating the 400th anniversary of the historic venue’s Royal Charter.

After centuries of being under Church then Crown ownership, the Inner and Middle Temples gained independence on 13 August 1608, when King James I signed the charter granting the Inns freehold of their land, with two provisos: the maintenance of the Temple Church and Master’s House, and for both Inns “to serve for all time to come for the accommodation and education of the students and practitioners of laws of the realm”.

In addition to its legal standing, Middle Temple Hall has a long association with drama and Shakespeare. Most notably, on 2 February 1602, it was the venue of the first recorded performance of Twelfth Night, in which it’s believed, the bard himself appeared. In 2002, Mark Rylance played Olivia in the all-male cast of a one-off Globe performance presented at the Hall to commemorate the comedy’s own 400th milestone (See News, 1 Feb 2002).

In Romeo and Juliet, Juliet Rylance will play Juliet opposite David Sturzaker as Romeo. The tale of doomed lovers is presented by Theatre of Memory, the company launched in 2007 by the pair. Though final casting has yet to be confirmed and is subject to availability, Mark Rylance himself has also been in discussions for the part Friar Laurence, the character who tries unsuccessfully to avert Juliet’s suicide in the play. The production will be directed by Tamara Harvey (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Whipping It Up), who also directed the company’s debut production, a revival of Neil LaBute’s bash, at the West End’s Trafalgar Studios last January.

The Temple Festival will pay homage to the Bard with other events, including a Shakespeare Schools showcase of eight-minute mini-Shakespeare cameos. The year-long event launches this month with an Opening Weekend on 19-20 January 2008. Other festival highlights include a new production of Purcell’s opera Dido and Aeneas, a schedule of recitals, a special flower show, guided tours, mock trials, advocacy demonstrations and a series of symposia on the role of English law and the bar.

The Temple, situated between the Embankment and Fleet Street, was a haven for the Knights Templar and Knights Hospitaller for over 200 years. In 1326 the first tenancies were granted to priestly lawyers who were eventually replaced by a lay profession. Today the Temple’s main role involves the education of barristers and the regulation of their professional life.

Tickets for Romeo and Juliet at Middle Temple Hall go on sale in April.

- by Terri Paddock