Peter Brook's revolutionary 1947 production focused on thrilling fights and youthful lovers.

Young woman in nightdress stars out longingly from  the arch of a balcony
Daphne Slater as Juliet, 1947, Shakespeare Memorial Theatre
Photo by Angus McBean © RSC Browse and license our images


The production opened at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre on 5 April 1947 before transferring to His Majesty’s Theatre in London on 8 October.

It was the first time that the governors of the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre had given permission for productions to transfer from Stratford-upon-Avon to London. Romeo and Juliet joined Richard II and Twelfth Night in repertory for a limited season.


Before rehearsals started, the 22-year-old director Peter Brook consulted critic and playwright George Bernard Shaw, who advised him to emphasise the youthful lovers and vigorous fights. Brook seems to have taken this advice, casting the 21-year-old Laurence Payne and 18-year-old Daphne Slater in the title roles.


Peter Brook brought a fresh and radical approach to the play and was not afraid to cut or move text. He deleted the scene where Juliet gets the poison but reinstated it for the London transfer. He also omitted the reconciliation of the feuding families at the end of the play and gave the Prince's final speech to the Chorus.


For now, these hot days, is the mad blood stirring” Benvolio, Act 3 Scene 1

Some critics thought that Brook’s realistic crowd scenes threatened to overwhelm the production.

 “A recklessly spectacular version of Romeo and Juliet which sacrifices poetry, acting, and even the story itself, to pictorial splendourThe Times, 7 April 1947.


Despite the mixed critical reception for the production at the time, later commentators considered this a turning point in British theatre.

Brook approached Shakespeare with few preconceptions and created a production full of life, especially in the electrifying fight scenes.

In the market place of a walled city, two groups of armed men prepare to fight
Capulets and Montagues fight in Romeo and Juliet, 1947, Shakespeare Memorial Theatre
Photo by Angus McBean © RSC Browse and license our images


The set for the production, consisting chiefly of a small partial wall which encircled the stage, was considered minimalist by contemporary commentators. Peter Brook preferred the action to take place in a wide open space, uncluttered by elaborate scenery and decoration.

Theatrical set for Romeo and Juliet showing a single cypress tree

The minimal approach was very evident in Rolf Gérard's set design for Mantua, consisting of a solitary stylised 16 foot high cypress tree, against which Romeo leaned as he pondered his banishment.

Design sketch of a cypress tree for Romeo and Juliet 1947     Young cloaked man leans against a large cypress tree


Brook's vision was vividly brought to life by Rolf Gérard, who designed both the sets and the costumes for the production. Gérard enjoyed a long artistic collaboration with Peter Brook and was also designer for the Metropolitan Opera in New York for more than 20 years.



Shakespeare Memorial Theatre

Joss Ackland – Unnamed parts

Julian Amyes - Unnamed parts

William Avenell - Balthasar

John Blatchley - Friar John

Helen Burns - Unnamed parts

George Cooper - Abraham

Margaret Courtenay - Unnamed parts

Leigh Crutchley - Peter

Anne Daniels - Unnamed parts

Myles Eason - Tybalt

Elizabeth Ewbank - Unnamed parts

Sol Glabman - Unnamed parts

Margaret Godwin - Unnamed parts

Michael Golden - Montague

Antony Groser - Gregory

Robert Harris - Escalus

John Harrison – Benvolio, Chorus

David Hobman - Unnamed parts

Walter Hudd - Capulet

Maxwell Jackson - Unnamed parts

Lois Johnson - Unnamed parts

Pamela Leatherland - Unnamed parts

Beatrix Lehmann - Nurse

Keith Lloyd - Unnamed parts

Joanna Mackie - Unnamed parts

Diana Mahony - Unnamed parts

William March - Sampson

David Oxley - Unnamed parts

Laurence Payne - Romeo

Lennard Pearce - Unnamed parts

John Randall - Unnamed parts

Richard Renny - Unnamed parts

Herbert Roland - Unnamed parts

Duncan Ross - Unnamed parts

John Ruddock – Friar Laurence

Paul Scofield - Mercutio

Douglas Seale – Apothecary, Uncle

Donald Sinden - Paris

Daphne Slater - Juliet

Irene Sutcliffe - Unnamed parts

Veronica Turleigh – Lady Capulet

John Warner - Unnamed parts

Gwen Williams – Lady Montague

Beryl Wright - Unnamed parts

Kenneth Wynne - Unnamed parts




Director – Peter Brook

Designer - Rolf Gérard

Music - Roberto Gerhard


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Shakespeare Centre Library and Archive homepage

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