Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Natasha Rickman: Romeo & Juliet

By | Published on Friday 23 April 2021

Our regular readers will be very much aware of how appreciative we have been of the work of Oxford’s Creation Theatre during the lockdown.

Their digitally delivered shows have been brilliantly clever, rising to the challenge of this new medium with aplomb.

Next month, they will be staging an adaptation of ‘Romeo & Juliet’, which has been given an interactive, choose-your-journey element, and it sounds rather exciting.

I spoke to the show’s director Natasha Rickman to find out more.

CM: ‘Romeo & Juliet’ doesn’t really need much introduction, of course. But do you stick to the original story and script in your production?
NR: ​Well – it depends which multiverse you are in! The show is interactive and puts the audience in charge of characters’ decisions for the last part of the story. So there is one ‘regular’ version audiences might see, but also other universes which explore what might have happened if different decisions had been made. For these, I have lifted and combined text from other Shakespeare plays to create new dialogue for characters.

CM: What would you say are the primary themes of your staging of it?
NR: ​Having lived through the last twelve months, the desire for human connection, and love, has such a resonance in our rehearsal room. It’s also a play about loneliness and characters who want to connect but can’t. In addition to that, we want to meet, interact and give the reins over to our audience to put them in the position of asking “if I was in that situation, what would I do?”

CM: The show, like lots of Creation’s recent output, is digital and immersive, mixing live performance and pre-filmed material, and I’ve also read the word ‘gameplay’ in the press release. Can you tell us a bit more about the format and the way it’s been put together?
NR: ​The show has many pathways and variations, depending on the choices audiences make. Before they watch, they need to choose whether to be a Montague or a Capulet, and this decision will affect their pathway leading up to the party where Romeo and Juliet meet.

We are also developing a website which audiences can choose to visit ahead of their trip to Verona if they like – this will provide them with access to other moments in the show, and could even give them tips on what choices to make to save Romeo and Juliet from their star-crossed fate.

During the show audiences can choose different pathways, and may stumble on meetings with individual characters too, as well as receiving interactions with characters through a variety of channels, should they wish.

CM: What made you want to apply this format to ‘Romeo & Juliet’?
NR: The prologue tells us that Romeo and Juliet are destined to meet, fall in love and die. There are lots of moments of decision in the play – Romeo has a bad feeling about going to the party and has dreams foreshadowing that it is a bad idea, and many characters talk about Romeo’s death before it occurs.

I wanted to hand the choices over to the audience to play with the idea of freewill versus destiny, and to offer some alternative timelines to such a well known play.

CM: What have you found challenging about putting together a performance like this? Did you personally have much experience of using digital platforms before this?
NR: I’ve been directing digital theatre over the last year, since the first lockdown, including three previous digital shows for Creation. It’s such an exciting format, and it’s brilliant to learn more about it with each show. This show is certainly the most intricate I’ve created so far, and so it has been an exciting time scheduling and rehearsing multiple universes and so much simultaneous content! But we have an amazing team – and a HUGE spreadsheet – which has made it possible.

CM: Can you see yourself continuing to engage with this kind of media, even post social-distancing? Is there a place for digital theatre in the future alongside in-person theatre?
NR: ​Definitely! I think people are often tempted to compare digital theatre with either theatre or film, and in my opinion it is a form in it’s own right. It offers something different – for example here audiences all over the world can simultaneously watch over 100 variations of the same show, whilst still having live performers who can see and speak to them, which feels like something we can only offer in this format.

CM: Can you tell us a bit about you now? How long have you been working in the theatre and how did you end up there? Did you always want to be a director?
NR: ​I’ve been working in theatre for just over ten years now. I originally trained as an actor and worked in theatre in the UK and abroad for several years. But as a teenager growing up in Essex I was part of lots of youth theatres that encouraged us to make our own work, put shows on, and work in our own mini ensembles. I loved that time in my life, and missed creating and directing in that way. So in 2015 I directed a Shakespeare at the Rose Playhouse, and then continued to direct, including a period of years where I worked as an assistant and associate to learn my craft. I’ve been lucky to be directing my own work for the last few years and am loving it.

CM: How has the last year been for you? Have you managed to keep busy…?
​NR: The last year has been so hard for our industry, and I know I’ve been incredibly lucky to have been able to make work. The show I was directing when the pandemic closed the theatres was one for Creation, and so they invited me to adapt it for a digital stage. From there I directed two more digital shows for them, as well as a digital ‘A Christmas Carol’ for Guildford Shakespeare Company and Jermyn Street, and a version of ‘The Snow Queen’ I adapted and directed for Iris Theatre.

CM: What hopes/dreams/ambitions do you have for the future?
NR: ​To make work that excites me, with people who inspire me, and that has an audience who want to see it!

CM: What’s coming up next for you after this?
NR: ​I’m continuing to work with Creation until June as part of their rep company of theatre makers.

Creation Theatre’s ‘Romeo & Juliet’ is presented in partnership with Watford Palace Theatre and is performed from 12-23 May. Head this way to book your tickets.

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