Epic RSC productions of Romeo and Juliet and Matilda head to Bradford

The RSC are bringing two of their hit productions to Bradford next month. Theatre correspondent Nick Ahad reports.

Romeo and Juliet will be performed in Bradford next month
Romeo and Juliet will be performed in Bradford next month

You do know that you pay for the Royal Shakespeare Company, right? The money we all pay into the Arts Council goes to theatres, arts organisations and artists around the country, including the world famous RSC. The money we pay is so well worth the investment.

War Horse is a great way to explain this. Let’s say you’ve never seen the National Theatre production (although millions have), you might not realise it but you still benefit from War Horse. For example, the production has gone around the world and taken Brand Britain, a brand that has taken a bit of a battering in recent years, with it. People from around the world have come to our cities to see the production. Drive a taxi? You might have ferried passengers to see the show when it has visited our Yorkshire cities. Work in or run a restaurant? You might well have served meals to people who have gone to see the show and decided to make a night of it. Investment in the arts works for all of us.

The RSC is paying some of this investment back over the next couple of months when it decamps to Bradford to bring to the Alhambra not one, but two epic productions to the stage – Romeo and Juliet and the musical Matilda. Catherine Mallyon is the executive director of the RSC. “We have a number of associate theatres across the country and the Alhambra in Bradford is one of those theatres with which we have a close connection and relationship,” she says. “We do a lot of significant work with local schools, giving them access to the work we do and educational programmes. In Bradford in particular we work with schools that have low cultural engagement, something which we see as an important part of our work. As an organisation we wanted to be able to measure the impact of this work, so we commissioned some research which has been able to demonstrate that the overall attainment of the schools we work with has increased.”

The hit production of Matilda is also on its way to Yorkshire.

So that’s an example of just some of the return on investment we receive in Yorkshire from the Stratford-Upon-Avon theatre. See, worth it.

In February a sparkling new production of Romeo and Juliet, directed by the RSC’s deputy artistic director Erica Whyman, comes to Bradford. The reviews when it hit the stage this year in Stratford were impressive enough to earn the production a run at London’s Barbican theatre ahead of its national tour. The production will feature a chorus of eight local amateur actors on stage with the RSC professional performers in Bradford. “It is an extraordinarily contemporary take on this story, which is over 400 years old and still appeals to audiences today,” says Mallyon. “Erica has done a brilliant job of looking at the play through the lens of today. It has been really wonderful to see that the play really appeals to young people.”

In a move that is to be applauded and will hopefully continue to become the norm, the play is colourblind and gender-blind cast. Mercutio is played by a woman and Romeo is played by British Asian actor Bally Gill. “There is a diverse cast but that isn’t the most relevant part of the production. It remains a play about the tensions between the two households and the family tensions and about forbidden love between two young people,” says Mallyon. “It is also an incredibly compelling and emotional piece of work.”

Speaking of emotional work, the second production the RSC is gifting Yorkshire with next month is Matilda, the musical written by Dennis Kelly and Tim Minchin.

It’s the first time the show has come to Yorkshire, although it has been seen by millions around the world already. “It isn’t exactly the same cast who performed it in the West End – although some of that company will be in Bradford with the production,” says Mallyon. “But it is the same production that we take around the world. It means the audiences in Bradford will see the exact same production that has been in London, Stratford, on Broadway and all around the world.”

The musical, based on the Roald Dahl book, was seven years in the making. Mallyon is fully aware that the RSC, as one of the best funded arts organisations in the country, can enjoy the luxury of a seven year development period. “Spending that amount of time means that you give a production the absolutely best chance of being a success. We can never guarantee anything will work until it is in front of an audience, but I think we all knew this was something special.”

It’s fair to say they were right. The production has seen incredible reviews wherever it has gone and now Yorkshire audiences get to experience it.

Romeo and Juliet: The story of the star-crossed lovers is brought to vibrant life on the stage. Reviewers praised the youthful and exuberant energy of Erica Whyman’s production which features a multiracial cast. Bradford Alhambra, February 12-16.

Matilda: The musical comedian Tim Minchin was the perfect person to collaborate on this production with writer Dennis Kelly, one of theatre’s biggest playwright stars. Humorous and poignant, much like the Roald Dahl book on which it is based, it is a huge hit with all ages. February 19 to March 23.

Tickets 01274 43200.