Babygrows are such candy sorrow: Romeo and Juliet get a gritty romcom reboot | Theatre

Gary Owen and Rachel O’Riordan.

Gary Owen has all the time cherished romcoms. When Harry Met Sally? “It’s the most effective.” The Worst Particular person within the World? “Unbelievable!” This would possibly shock anybody who has seen Owen’s political performs and been hit by their searing interrogations of social injustice, demotic poetry and unsentimental energy.

However the Welsh playwright has been making an attempt to write down a romcom for years, he explains, over lunch on the Nationwide Theatre with Irish director Rachel O’Riordan. The 2 are longtime collaborators: final 12 months, O’Riordan revived her manufacturing of his 2015 play Iphigenia in Splott, an incendiary tackle historic Greek tragedy that was an indictment of modern-day Britain. Now, they’re teaming up for Romeo and Julie, which places a romcom-ish spin on Romeo and Juliet. The “ish” is essential: Shakespeare’s tragedy would want fairly a spin contemplating its double-suicide ending.

“We are saying it’s impressed by Romeo and Juliet,” says O’Riordan. “There’s a spirit of the play in there.” Sure, provides Owen, who has up to date a number of canonical dramas, giving them fashionable twists. “In all of the classics, there’s a dilemma on the core. It may be productive to dig into that and take into consideration the way it performs out now.”

His Romeo and Julie actually has romcom parts: teen love, obstacles to romance, flirtatious repartee and banter. “I needed to write down a model that was constructive,” provides Owen, “the place they’re each getting one thing from this relationship.” Nonetheless, it comes laced with the themes he’s identified for: poverty, class division and the perform of quiet, on a regular basis heroism within the face of those iniquities.

Gary Owen and Rachel O’Riordan.
‘I needed to write down a constructive model’ … Gary Owen and Rachel O’Riordan. {Photograph}: Linda Nylind/The Guardian

The couple, performed by Callum Scott Howells and Rosie Sheehy, each hail from Cardiff. Romeo is an out-of-work single dad who takes care of his daughter and his alcoholic mom, Julie is an A-level pupil who desires of moving into Cambridge College. They meet in a restaurant one morning and one thing clicks.

Owen and O’Riordan first met in 2015: O’Riordan had simply began working at Cardiff’s Sherman theatre as its creative director. “It wasn’t in the most effective form. It wanted a number of assist,” she says. Having labored in Northern Eire after which at Perth theatre, she needed to construct an area id for the Sherman. “I believed: ‘What actually good Welsh playwrights do I do know?’ I knew of Gary’s work so I obtained in contact.”

A number of months later, they staged Iphigenia in Splott, starring Sophie Melville in her breakout function. “We didn’t know if anybody would come,” says O’Riordan, “as a result of we have been in the midst of austerity, however the first preview was extraordinary – probably the most electrifying nights of my life as an inventive director. There was a febrile environment within the auditorium. It felt as if individuals have been indignant and relieved to listen to these phrases spoken.”

The pair went on to stage an adaptation of Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard, transposed to Thatcher’s Britain, and Owen’s Killology, about household abuse and poisonous masculinity. Romeo and Julie, their fourth collaboration, is as soon as once more set within the forgotten nook of Cardiff known as Splott, the place Owen lived for 10 years. The playwright, who was born in Pembrokeshire and raised in Bridgend, can also be engaged on a brand new play produced by Nica Burns, and on one other with O’Riordan. Will he hold writing about Cardiff? It appears so. “I really feel way more comfy after I know I’ve obtained a sure authority to write down about these locations and folks. That comes from a deep data. Each every now and then, I’m supplied one thing else and I need to say: ‘Why would you choose me? There are six different writers who can do it.’”

‘She is a wish-fulfilment character’ ... Rosie Sheehy as Julie.
‘She is a wish-fulfilment character’ … Rosie Sheehy as Julie. {Photograph}: Marc Brenner

Why select Shakespeare’s play now? “To be within the house of performs akin to Iphigenia and Killology for a number of years,” he says, “was fairly exhausting. I needed to write down one thing that had extra sweetness and humour in it.” Nevertheless, he does nonetheless discover class by means of Romeo and Julie. “It’s an obsession. I’m anyone from a working-class background who ended up going to Cambridge and now I work in theatre.” So identical to Julie within the play, besides she desires to be an astrophysicist? “Sure, she’s 100% a wish-fulfilment character for me – if I have been any good at maths, I’d be an astrophysicist.”

Romeo, in the meantime, is born of Owen’s curiosity in parenting, and particularly younger fathers. “It was one thing I noticed in Splott on a regular basis: teams of males, aged between 16 and 20, strolling round collectively, often with a can of Stella of their fingers and considered one of them would have a child in a pushchair. I observed these males after I had my very own kids. I discovered having a small child very tough – and I used to be simply excited about the comparative privilege of my place to theirs, this concept of: ‘Oh my God, how do they cope?’”

In the meantime, Iphigenia in Splott has turn out to be a taking pictures star that retains on burning, wherever it’s staged. Quickly after its unique run in Cardiff, it transferred to the Nationwide Theatre’s Momentary Area. “It was the primary time a manufacturing made in Wales had transferred to the Nationwide,” says O’Riordan. “We have been considering: ‘Are they going to get it?’ However from the primary preview, it was electrical differently. That’s the factor about fact – it transcends specificity and turns into common.”

O’Riordan displays on her determination to revive the play, which includes a maternity ward, final 12 months amid NHS turbulence, the nurses’ strike and the slicing of common credit score. “To my shock, it felt much more resonant than the primary time.” It’s a additional signal of the occasions that the pair hope to deliver it again once more, sure it can hold resonating. The play is not only concerning the working class but additionally – emphatically – concerning the tragedy of Britain’s forgotten underclass.

“After I wrote it,” says Owen, “there was austerity and the monetary disaster. David Cameron was telling us we have been all in it collectively, however on the similar time there could be tales about advantages tradition – this or that household getting £10,000 per week. That was one thing I needed to tackle.” This gave rise to the character of Effie, an obstreperous out-of-work girl who goes on all-night benders and brawls together with her neighbours till a fateful one-night stand that results in transformation and tragedy. “I needed to say: ‘Effie may not be enjoyable to have in your road however her struggling counts.’ The purpose of that play is to say: ‘I defy you to not look after her by the top.’”

Sophie Melville in Iphigenia in Splott.
One other Welsh hit … Sophie Melville in Iphigenia in Splott. {Photograph}: Jennifer McCord

Do they suppose working-class tales are at this time being advised with higher nuance? “I hope so,” says Owen, “however there’s an extended method to go.” And what concerning the range of audiences consuming these tales? “I believe that it’s important to put the work on the stage to deliver the viewers in,” says O’Riordan. “That shift isn’t quick nevertheless it’s not going to occur in any respect if the tales getting advised don’t converse to areas of society that are historically underrepresented on our phases.”

What is essential, says O’Riordan, is that they’re advised with none diploma of voyeurism. “I used to be very cautious after I was directing Iphigenia in Splott. I attempted to ensure Effie was not objectified or that she turned a cipher for the working-class story. She will not be there as a cathartic conduit for audiences to go: ‘Oh sure, I perceive it now.’ It’s extra advanced. She is one instance.”

“You might be representing a particular set of circumstances,” provides Owen. “Once they get to a stage like this one, they turn out to be emblematic. Which is why it’s actually beautiful to get to write down three performs set in Splott.”

Romeo and his mom, in Owen’s play, are additionally on society’s backside rung. “What they characterize for me,” says O’Riordan “is the slip down, from working class to underclass, and the way shut these two bands are. Julie’s working-class dad and mom are paddling however they might slip simply into underclass – and that’s the place we’re politically. It’s a harmful state of affairs if we begin to settle for that a complete class of individuals don’t actually matter.”