The enduring appeal of Romeo and Juliet as Hull Truck stages an outdoor production of the classic Shakespeare play

For some reason, seemingly randomly, Romeo and Juliet was trending on Twitter last week.

Laura Elsworthy and Jordan Metcalfe for Hull Truck Theatre's Romeo & Juliet.
Laura Elsworthy and Jordan Metcalfe for Hull Truck Theatre's Romeo & Juliet.

It appeared to be because someone from a new generation had discovered the Baz Luhrmann version of the story from 1996, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes in the titular roles. I assume there are now calls for it to be cancelled for some reason or other..

Seeing the tweets reminded me I haven’t watched the film this year – I tend to watch it at least once annually. It is, without question, one of my favourite films of all time. Not favourite Shakespeare adaptations – favourite movies, period.

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One of the reasons is that it proves a couple of things: first, that Luhrmann is a bona fide cinematic genius and secondly that the reason Shakespeare was the soul of the age and continues to be the soul of many ages since, is because his story speaks to us through the centuries.

Hull Truck Theatre's Romeo & Juliet is being staged this summer.

Romeo and Juliet is one that particularly talks to audiences centuries on – love never goes out of fashion.

It’s back in fashion – the play, that is – at the minute, with an Ola Ince production at the Globe and the National Theatre creating a stage-film hybrid version starring man of the moment Josh O’Connor (Prince Charles in The Crown).

And now over in Hull comes an outdoor version from Hull Truck artistic director Mark Babych.

His version is not going to be at the theatre, however, but at the city’s [email protected]

It’s good, says Babych, to be back simply making theatre for the city’s audiences after more than a year away.

“Our homecoming season is a blend of many things designed to welcome audiences back, across several projects both at the theatre and the [email protected] We wanted audiences to be confident in re-attending indoors after such a long time, but also give them the opportunity to see a work at a larger scale in an outdoor setting too, so that there was something for as wide an audience as possible,” says Babych.

“We have wanted to produce something at [email protected] for a long time and this was the perfect moment to try something new, meaning we could work in partnership with other local organisations enabling the show to have a wider reach to audiences who may not have experienced Shakespeare before in our city.”

The other reason the star crossed lovers are having a moment is because it tends to almost guarantee bums on seats – it’s popular and still widely studied by students.

“Planning over the pandemic has been extremely challenging – we had several dates which we intended to open but then had to postpone as the rules and intended roadmaps shifted.

“We are however a creative and resilient organisation and I’m incredibly proud of the Hull Truck Theatre Staff Team for responding with such energy and determination to deal with the humps and bumps in the road as they came at us.

“We’ve learnt a great deal over this time and pulled together to ensure that we had the very best chance of coming through this with our heart and spirit intact.”

It has been such a difficult year and it is, frankly, surprising that we haven’t lost more of our cultural gems. To hear the likes of Babych to still talk with

the readiness for the fight is inspiring.

He has been desperate to get work back in front of an audience. “It was vital that as soon as we were able to operate within the rules, we welcomed our audiences back,” he says.

“The truth is, 18 months is a long time to be absent and while we were able to generate work on our digital platforms, we wanted to rekindle the joy of live theatre for as wide an audience as possible and start our journey back together again.”

Like many theatres in the region, Hull Truck has taken its civic responsibility seriously during the pandemic, taking work for children like The Tortoise and the Hare on local tours to families, schools and areas of Hull that have potentially been hit harder by the pandemic and, as Babych says “have been more in need of escapism, entertainment and togetherness.”

And now, the theatre is back with a new version of the tragic lovers.

“It’s as fresh and relevant now as it has ever been, where we see the younger generation wanting to rewrite the rules of their parents and generations before. It’s a well-known, classic story that even if people have never seen it, has a hook of recognition about it,” says Babych.

[email protected] demands a big bold story to be told and we are seizing this opportunity to add a different dimension to our work – thus far we have navigated the choppy waters of the pandemic by a careful management of risk, but it’s equally important that the drive for quality, ambition, diversity and inclusion remains in the central core of our DNA.

“This production allows us to maintain our core beliefs and share these ambitions with our audiences.”

Those core beliefs include tinkering with the story for Babych. His production has been adapted for an ensemble of eight actors and all the male heads of the Capulet and Montague households have gone – here they’ve been killed long ago in the bloody feud and the women rule the roost.

“Being back is exciting and at the same time I feel this huge determination to create something really special in this thrilling outdoor space.”

Open air traverse performance

Hull Truck’s artistic director Mark Babych has turned the [email protected] into a traverse performance area.

“With the audience on two sides and the action running through the centre, it gives a deeper sense of being witnesses to the story as it unfolds in front of you.

We’ve stripped it back to its barest essentials so that the writing, actors, and musicianship shine in this glorious outdoor setting.”

Hull Truck’s production of Romeo and Juliet is at [email protected] Dock July 15 to August 7.

For more details and to book tickets visit hulltruck.co.uk