Adults in Blackpool created their own version of Romeo and Juliet as part of our Shakespeare Nation project, encouraging more adults to experience Shakespeare and live theatre.
The group of volunteers from Blackpool’s LGBTQ community, Liberty Church, hoteliers, Better Start parents and a community choir performed ‘A Grand Romance’, a show they created with us and Blackpool Grand Theatre. The production mixes extracts of Romeo and Juliet with personal stories of love and romance in Blackpool. You can watch a video about the project below.
The performance is part of the work we are doing with Blackpool Grand Theatre, one of the six partner theatres we are working with on Shakespeare Nation, our national programme aimed at adult communities who might not think theatre and Shakespeare are for them. Before the performance we worked together with the Grand Theatre to introduce hundreds of adults to Shakespeare, holding a range of taster workshops run by local and RSC artists, musicians and creatives.
The group performed 'A Grand Romance', directed by Jo Cleasby, at the Grand Theatre on 17 June, with some of the performance taking place on Blackpool’s iconic promenade.
Our Deputy Artistic Director Erica Whyman was in Blackpool to watch the production. She called the show "a heartfelt celebration of love and romance, and a touching love letter to Blackpool itself.”
She explained: “We were serenaded on the sunny seafront by a wonderful community choir as we watched our adult performers fuse the prologue of Romeo and Juliet with their own prologue about their hometown. We were then escorted by the indefatigable choir by historic trams back to the Grand Theatre where the performers gave us a wonderful 45 minutes of Shakespeare, scenes from their own lives and poetry specially written for the event."
Celine Wyatt, from the Grand Theatre added: “We are so proud of the strong creative voices and new storytelling that have emerged from our community, with Shakespeare’s stories igniting a new passion for drama and building new relationships with the Grand Theatre."
From Valentine's to butterflies
Our Shakespeare Nation Adult Participation Producer, Ian Wainwright, describes how 'A Grand Romance' came together in Blackpool.
It’s Tuesday 14 February, Valentine’s Day, and I’m in the lounge of a moderately priced hotel in Blackpool. I’ve just danced with a local former landlady, made an origami rose with three members of an LGBT church, and shared a sketch of my experiences of romance at the seaside with a young chap from a local Better Start centre. All of us are trying something new. Next we’re re-enacting a moment from Romeo and Juliet.
Cut to 17 June and I’m backstage at the Grand Theatre with many of the same people. After four months of rehearsals run by the Grand's incredible creative learning team, workshops from RSC professionals, hard work, a few tears and much laughter, the group is performing their own production – a version of Romeo and Juliet that mixes their stories of Blackpool and romance with Shakespeare’s original text. The nerves are palpable, but after they step on stage – many for the first time in front of an audience – the butterflies are gone replaced by the addictive adrenaline of live theatre. They return the wings with a new gleam in their eye. ‘Can we do that again, please.’