SHAKESPEARE fans will be soaking up Latin American vibes tonight when this year’s Stafford Festival Shakespeare production of Romeo and Juliet opens.
Stafford Castle will be alive with Cuban-style rhythms to set the scene for the Bard’s most famous romantic tragedy which will be set in a lawless 1950s South American country.
Peter Rowe, the man at the helm, is no stranger to Shakespeare or to Stafford, having directed three of the town’s annual outdoor productions before.
He also wrote the Gatehouse’s rock and roll pantomime Dick Whittington which outsold the previous three years’ productions.
During his career he has been artistic director for the New Wolsey Theatre, the Solent People’s Theatre Company and Liverpool’s Everyman Theatre.
He has many happy memories from his hat-trick of Shakespeare shows in Stafford.
“I had a great time with all three and so have the acting companies I’ve been a part of. There are some really big
laughs. I remember Eric Potts with his bottle of wine in Twelfth Night pretending to be a statue. That was a particular highlight for me. It’s a great event to be a part of – audiences come up that hill expecting to have a good time. We try and create a festival atmosphere before the show even starts, so people are walking into entertainment when they arrive.”
The cast will be a group of actor/musicians so there will be a lot of music threaded throughout the show and in the pre-show entertainment which this year is a fiesta day in a specially-created market square.
“Obviously there’s a big ball as part of Romeo and Juliet in the first half and in the processionals at the end for the funeral and the close of the show. So we’ve decided to set this production in somewhere like Havana in 1956 before the revolution when there was a corrupt state, big powerful families and violence on the streets.
“It’s a very hot, intense atmosphere. So the whole show has got that hot-house
feel to it with these Cuban/Latin vibes running through it.”
Setting the play in a lawless South American company will doubtless upset some purists but Peter is confident the production will pacify them.
“I think we’ve been quite careful about this choice. One of the things that appealed to me about setting it this way is the way in which Romeo and Juliet’s love story is threaded through with death. “Something I’ve been interested in since I saw an exhibition on it is the Latin American festival of the Day of the Dead when ancestors are recalled and worshipped. It’s a strange, quite macabre festival of people wearing death head masks as part of that celebration. So it’s a cross between a fiesta day and a funeral and we’re planning to use that for the ball. The sense of love in the face of violence and death will fit that culture and that period really well.”
Romeo and Juliet opens tonight and runs until Saturday, July 14. For times and tickets call 01785 254653.