Star-crossed lovers by two other names

2nd December 1994 at 00:00
Romeo and Juliet and West Side Story, Giggleswick School, North Yorkshire. Kevin Berry looks at a twice-told tale performed alternate nights by one school. Are the rehearsals getting you down as we get closer to the end of term? Dreading the thought of your leading actor going down with the flu? Will you strangle the next colleague who tells you to relax, it will be all right on the night?

Spare a thought, if you will, for Michael Day, head of drama at Giggleswick School in North Yorkshire. He and his youngsters are putting on Romeo and Juliet and West Side Story ... in the same week! Another Giggleswick teacher had always wanted to produce West Side Story and Michael's actors were ready for some Shakespeare, so the decision was made to try both.

They start on Sunday December 4 with Shakespeare in the afternoon, a pause for tea and much behind the scenes frenzy, and then Bernstein in the evening. After the launch the play and the musical will be shown on alternate nights.

Inevitably many young actors will be in both productions. Giggleswick is a co-ed boarding school, with about 60 per cent boys, but given the nature of the two shows the greater imput has had to come from the males.

Romeo and Juliet, Matthew Theakston and Amy Cramhorn, wisely decided not to try to replicate their roles in West Side Story. This is Matthew's first important role and both admitted that they would find the singing a little difficult. Some prominent characters in the Shakespeare story, such as Lord Capulet and Lord Montague are to be played by boys who are also dancing as Jets and Sharks. Nick Bowater is playing Tony and Benvolio. It's a challenge, he says. But he loves Shakespeare and West Side Story is his sister's favourite musical, so why not?

Two science teachers, Mike Peek and Mike Hall, have been drafted in to play Officer Krupke and Lieutenant Shrank, and the other "adult" roles in the musical are also being taken by staff members.

Jonathan Broadbent, a capable young actor, will be done to death twice as he is playing both Mercutio and Riff. He is also helping to choreograph fight scenes in Romeo and Juliet.

"I thought that the nicest combination might be those two roles. There aren't many similarities between the two characters, Riff's got a gang behind him whereas Mercutio is an individual. The death scenes are completely different. The rumble in West Side is heavily stylised, a dance-cum-fight. It's serious, they hate each other, really want to kill each other. Whereas with Mercutio it's more two characters trying to outwit each other and not so horrific.

"Bernardo is played by my best friend, Tony Williams, and he has to kill me so we've worked on my death scene quite a lot in our own time".

When I rang to arrange a time to see weekend rehearsals I was told: "We're doing Mercutio's death before lunch, then the opening scene of West Side at 1.30 and back to Shakespeare, with Juliet this time, at four... so come when you want."

Five or six people were missing because of Duke of Edinburgh Award commitments, one actor was taking part in a cycle race and the prospect of an Old Boys' rugby match had some eyes on the clock but rehearsals went ahead with dedication and application and chorus members only too willing to stand in for absentees.

Their venture has had to be a cooperative effort; without a willingness to delegate and to use spare time it would not have been worth trying. As with Jonathan and his friend other pairs have rehearsed whenever possible. The choreography for West Side Story has been left to sixth-former Julia Hole who strides around like a Broadway veteran, quietly demanding and getting the very best from some formidably huge young men.

The school hall, though quite a reasonable size, was declared a non-starter from the beginning and plans were made to use the sports hall. Both shows are making good use of the greater space, more than half of the floor for acting, with crowds of actors entering from channels between seats and "escaping" round the back of spectators.

Stage manager Matthew Jones, another sixth-former, has had to prepare for both productions. He's matter-of-fact, serenely confident and splendidly laconic. In his hands it will certainly all be all right on the night. "I have two crews, one for each play," he explains. "There are three of us overseeing both plays... it helps when some people know what's going on!"

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