I’m a freelance journalist and published poet, based in Manchester.
From the depths
How do you refresh an audience's experience of a play so well known that its leading protagonists are part of our everyday language? The answer for Walter Meierjohann, the play's director and the Artistic Director of HOME, is to stage Romeo & Juliet at the swimming baths.
During the first half, some of us stand on the dry surface of the Gala Pool at Manchester's Victoria Baths. Our fellow audience members sit in seats surrounding the pool, in a set-up strangely reminiscent of Shakespeare's Globe.
Alex Felton as Romeo and Sara Vickers as Juliet. Photo by Graeme Cooper.
It's hard at times to hear every line in the echoing surroundings but otherwise the setting is used to memorable affect. The star-crossed lovers meet beneath the mirrorballs at a masked dance. Later they call to each other across the length of the empty pool.
Alex Felton wrings laughs from his portrayal of Romeo as a wannabe indie rock star, but he is also convincing in the literal and metaphorical darkness of later scenes. Sara Vickers, as Juliet, acutely conveys the dilemma of an intelligent teenager trapped between love and parental pressure, augmented by tribal loyalties. She is supported by Rachel Atkins' irrepressible playing of Nurse.
The production is set to a live, especially written soundtrack by Nikola Kodjabashia, which helps maintain the pace of the action whilst also presaging its changes of mood.
After the interval, we follow the actors through the other two pools, ending in a water-filled scene of such haunting beauty that it almost justifies ticket price alone.
Alex Felton and Sara Vickers. Photo by Graeme Cooper
Sadly, if you're looking for a ticket, all performances are sold out.
Victoria Baths won the BBC Restoration programme in 2003. It had been the focus of a campaign since Manchester City Council decided it had to close in 1993. The building is now partially restored. The Victoria Baths Trust continues to work towards full restoration.
Romeo & Juliet is the second in a series of site-specific productions by HOME in the lead-up to the opening of its £25m centre for theatre, film and art in spring 2015. The new centre will include a 500-seat theatre, as well as a studio space, cinema screens, digital productions and broadcast facilities, a café bar and restaurants.