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Getting to know the cast of When Romeo Met Juliet

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Paul Roseby Paul Roseby | 10:05 UK time, Monday, 7 June 2010

I was feeling a touch of 'ye olde first night nerves' as the first of the three episodes of When Romeo Met Juliet aired on BBC Two last Friday evening.

It was almost a year ago since we started auditioning well over 150 potential young actors - all expectant hopefuls ready for the chance to be in one of the world's best known plays. Or did they just want to be on TV?

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Well, whatever their expectations were, nothing could prepare any of us for what lay ahead in the next few weeks. And that's the point.

For mentors and actors Adrian Lester and Lolita Chakrabarti, and for me, artistic director of the National Youth Theatre and director of Romeo and Juliet, this was all new territory and I'd be lying if I said at times I was not out of my comfort zone!

Some of these young people have never done theatre before, let alone Shakespeare. Some had never even been to the theatre. Not so uncommon, perhaps, with a generation high-wired up to instant communication, but the complete lack of understanding of the challenges of staging a live show in a professional theatre was, at times, to test my control freak-like nature!

Our chosen location was Shakespeare's county of Warwickshire but it was a thousand miles away from the tourist-trod cobbled streets of Stratford-upon-Avon. Cleverly, our home was to be Coventry - a town with a dramatic history and a perfect place to stage our own dramatic challenge.

Hustle star and When Romeo Met Juliet mentor Adrian Lester offers advice to the young cast

We were all made incredibly welcome by the two contrasting schools we auditioned in and I remember being bombarded by cake, biscuits and bowls of fruit heavily laden on the audition panel table, like a scene from an old Derek Jarman movie.

Would the children be able to take the pressure and the discipline of the next few weeks or would the tragic tale of Romeo and Juliet be mirrored by some tragic behaviour in the rehearsal room?

It is brilliant that the BBC has committed to such a challenging, collaborative, and life-changing programme using Shakespeare and theatre as the hook. And for me, it was also great to sit on the BBC Breakfast news sofa to have the chance to discuss the virtues of the show.

Paul Roseby is artistic director of the National Youth Theatre and is the director of the play Romeo and Juliet within the TV programme When Romeo Met Juliet.

Part one of the show is available on iPlayer until Saturday, 19 June. Parts two and three air on BBC Two at 9pm on Friday, 11 June and Saturday, 12 June respectively.

For details on repeats and upcoming shows see When Romeo Met Juliet


  • Comment number 1.

    I watched the programme with great interest having just been involved in supporting a group of complex disabled young people to take on the challenge of Romeo and Juliet. We spent a week with a local theatre company and 25 young people got involved and the impact and achievement was stunning. Young people were wholly involved in the project no matter how disabled. We weren't able to stick to the whole script but did include alot and to see your young people getting to grips with the language made me recognise the achievement of our young people was immense. We used a lot of sensory improvisation and decided to make the performance at the end of the week site specific in a local stately home.
    I can't wait to see how your young people progress with the project next week.
    One thing I learnt is that Shakespeare isn't to be feared but embraced and boy does it open your heart and mind.


  • Comment number 2.

    Hi Jane,
    Many thanks for your positive comments about When Romeo and Juliet, and it sounds like you are an expert in working in very challenging circumstances! I am thrilled to hear that you too believe disability is not a barrier to live performance or indeed that Shakespeare is not a barrier to your methods of engagement.
    As you clearly know through experience, Theatre is a great tool for positive social change. Keep up the valuable work!
    Best wishes

  • Comment number 3.

    This was a great programme and I can't wait to see the outcome in performance over the weekend. It's proof that there are some very talented young people out there who just need the opportunity to grasp something like Shakespeare and get involved in theatre as a way to gain confidence and have something to work towards. I'm involved in a local amateur theatre and to have the forum to go in and learn new skills and work on developing characters and the confidence from that is invaluable. Great show and hope this encourages others to take on the mantle and get involved!

    Ellie, Newcastle upon Tyne

  • Comment number 4.

    It was marvelous to see the understanding of shakespearean language grow within the cast, i'm sure for all of them their must of been that magic moment when you first "get" shakespeare. The program should be applauded for showing teenagers in a positive and warm light. I am watching the clock in anticipation of the final episode. Thank you Paul and the Beeb. I hope this inspires others to take the time to appreciate the wonderful story teller and intuitive observationist of the human animal that shakespeare was.

  • Comment number 5.

    I just wanted to say the show is actually brilliant! Being an eighteen year old shakespeare geek i think it is really cool that you are giving young people around my age the oppertunity to be a part of something amazing, as unfortunately the media doesnt normally portray us in a positive way. Can't wait to see the final performance, it keeps my mind off my a level exams!!

  • Comment number 6.

    I am struggling to download series 1 on to IPlayer, and forgot to record it laswt night. Does anybody know if the series will be put on to DVD or does anybody have a copy of it. Would be really useful for the school I work in.

    Thanks Carol

  • Comment number 7.

    Absolutely fantastic programme...I could not wait to see the second and third episodes. I agree that it was great to see young children in such a positive way. To see their journeys as they begin to understand Shakespeare and take it forward to a performance for not only those in the theatre but also knowing it will be shown on a screen outside as well was captivating.

    Will the performance be shown on TV? I really do hope so as I (and I am sure all the other viewers as well) would love to see it.

  • Comment number 8.

    Congratulations to all involved in the programmes and the play and thank you so much for showing the whole of the performance on BBC Red Button.

  • Comment number 9.

    Dear Mr. Rosenby,

    I was watching the BBC yesterday evening and came across language I recognized to be Shakespeare's. I kept watching since I had no idea what this show was about, but I was intrigued nevertheless. I was really moved by the performance of the actors. I must say that I was quite suprised that Beth is only 15 years old! wow what a perfomance, and this was only on tv..the real deal must have been so emotional! sadly I cannot see the previous episodes since the I-player is not available here (the Netherlands) but I just wanted to say that you, and of course the kids have done a marvelous job! there are some great talents there!

  • Comment number 10.

    I've been watching the episodes online, and didn't realise that you see the whole performance on the Red Button, is there a chance it'll be put online? I loved this programme so much, not only does it show us teens in a good light, but it makes me wish I wasn't leaving in two weeks so I could do something like this :)

  • Comment number 11.

    To ALL concerned and involved with the making of this series and the production in Coventry I would like to say a hearty congratulations. I've just completed watching the series on iPlayer and thoruoghly enjoyed all episodes and was moved by both the performance of the play itself, of which I was familiar, and also by the journey completed by the players.
    I happened upon the full performance on the red button by accident! Maybe I'd missed something but there didn't seem much info about this provision.
    How about a DVD of the whole thing?
    Best wishes and congratulations once again.

  • Comment number 12.

    This was a wonderful programme in every way ... and the end result, the performance by these great youngsters, was a total triumph for all concerned. A good production of R & J should always bring the audience to tears, in my view ... and this one certainly did!

    Thank you SO much for one of the most entertaining, memorable and moving programmes so far this year! Bravo!!

  • Comment number 13.

    I think this was a brilliant conception and my wife and I watched all three episodes. For Episode 3, we were joined by our 10 year old granddaughter, who also watched it with avid interest throughout. I do believe that the time is coming for a return to what I would describe as "Intellectualism" and to finally stop dumbing down education, most particularly in both the Arts and the Sciences. Programme scheduling is an issue here too. Episode 3 coincided with England's open world Cup match - this would have lost some potential audience. If the BBC genuinely wishes to promote this kind of programme to young people (and I believe it should), why not follow the experiment it tried with Bleak House after Eastenders and put Romeo and Juliet on after Waterloo Road, when all teenagers will be watching.

  • Comment number 14.

    I am not a techie type person and did not find the full showing of the production. will this be broadcast or will it be available on DVD or a download of some description?

  • Comment number 15.

    Hey Paul,

    First, let me congratulate you on the quality of the work you've achieved with both schools. Their final performance made me cry because I felt proud of them and emotionally involved.
    I'm teaching in a French secondary school with kids aged 12-14 and I 've taken up the challenge of introducing them to Shakespeare. As you can imagine, this form of theatre is even less accessible to French pupils than to British ones. Yet, despite the difficulties - and there were many ! - I saw my students get committed and give their best effort on a scene from Romeo and Juliet. The passion they put into it struck me because I realized they related strongly to the story created by Shakespeare 400 years ago. They looked for many ingenious ways of adapting Shakespeare to our contemporary world, it was amazing. Their English rendition of the play obviously didn't compare to your young performers' one but it was a success anyway.
    I was curious to know if a DVD would be available of the performance as well as the preparation to it such as offered on the BBC. It would be interesting for my students to realize British students experienced the same difficulties as they have tackling Shakespeare's text and how they got over them so brilliantly.

    Many thanks and congratulations again !


  • Comment number 16.

    I've just finished watching the series on iplayer and thought it was an excellent project. As a teenager I took part in several theatre productions, mostly led by teachers and volunteers. They are some of my best memories. As an adult I now really appreciate the time that was given up by those people who worked with us. The work that you and your team put into this project is fantastic Paul - this will no doubt be an experience your cast will remember and build on for life.

  • Comment number 17.

    Any chance of seeing the whole production - I missed it on the red button - it would be great to have a chance to watch all their hard work either online or on BBC 4 or on DVD. Any plans?

  • Comment number 18.

    I realised the whole perforamce was on the red button about 20 mins from the end, I would very much love to see the whole performance. Can we have this back on iplayer again please?

  • Comment number 19.

    I am aiming to get the full performance up on the BBC programme page from next tuesday. It will remain there forever, so you can watch whenever you like.
    I will add a post here when it's all been uploaded, but for the time being you can view some exclusive clips of workshops/ rehearsals with Paul, Adrian and Lolita, as well as some other behind the scenes footage - here http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00sq6b1

  • Comment number 20.

    Great stuff!
    Really enjoyed the series and best congratulations to all the cast
    (& production crew) who were outstanding. Especially the 'kids' in all the lead roles, given their relative inexperience.
    Well Done.

    Hated Shakespeare at school, but the periodic context, given it was Cov, was great too.

  • Comment number 21.

    Absolutely fantastic, a brilliant example of what the BBC License Fee can be used for.
    As a now 40-year-old lover of Shakespeare and a teenager who acted in musicals at school and with a community theatre group, this three part series was superb at showing just how important community and schools-based drama is.
    The beautiful thing about this programme was that it showed how kids can completely grasp that Shakespeare isn't stuffy, it isn't irrelevant, it isn't boring but that his plays can find mirrors in our everyday life.
    Having Adrian Lester and Lolita Chakrabati as mentors was also inspired, two superb actors who were great at showing the kids how to best reach their potential.
    I also liked that the production team didn't cut out bits that perhaps wouldn't be as palatable, Dan leaving the show, Kevin not turning up, proof that even with a BBC camera crew, teenagers can still be unpredictable.
    I'm really happy to hear the full production will be available in perpetuity as it's something which should be available to anyone as proof positive that even in today's world of technology and computer gaming, the word of the Bard can be used to bring people together.

    Well done Paul and all of your team.

  • Comment number 22.

    Hi, following up my post from last week, there's unfortunately been a slight technical hitch getting this material uploaded onto the webpage. I hope to have the entire performance up by Thursday. Many apologies - Jake Hayes, Researcher When Romeo Met Juliet

  • Comment number 23.

    Arrived home early today to avoid any post-football rage or euphoria which may spill out onto the streets!! Settled down with a cuppa to watch my recording of the final episode. I enjoyed it SO much. How wonderful to see the enjoyment in the young people's faces, and the wonderment on the faces of the audience also. Superb - congratulations to everyone involved.

  • Comment number 24.

    The full performance is now available to view on the BBC programme page, alongside various other exclusive clips from the show. It will remain there forever, so you can watch whenever you like.


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