Where do we even start with this day? It was the BEST! After receiving an invite to the Shaftesbury Theatre for this event, we hastily negotiated the day off work, organised train tickets and even bagged ourselves a couple of seats at the 6pm show of Six!
The event was organised by Theatre Craft (more about them at the end) and London Theatre. The plan was to have a backstage tour at the Shaftesbury, a Q&A with the director and writer, and then watch some of the tech rehearsal. All this was 2 days before & Juliet opened at the theatre too. Super exciting!
After turning up a little early for some photos outside the theatre (obviously!), we met a few other online badasses attending the day. Big shoutout to Jordan (@ftwingsldn), Bryony (@bryonycheri), Olivia (@oliviamitche) and Sarah (@thriftytheatrelondon) for all being so lovely and making us feel completely welcome!
First up, the Q&A with Luke Sheppard (director) and David West Read (writer). This was so fascinating and full of passion for the show we wish we could share the whole thing with you, but this blog would be way too long so here are a few of our favourite moments:
Choosing the songs
The musical is using Max Martin’s songs (Google him, he probably wrote a song you’ve done karaoke to). With a catalogue of circa 200 tracks, picking the right ones was another challenge the team faced.
“Use whatever is best for the story” Max had told David, who described how the songs were picked first, with the story written around them. This way it was created to feel like the songs are organically there, rather than fitted in afterwards. That doesn’t mean tweaks weren’t made, apparently 3 songs were cut as they were rehearsing for the shows previews in Manchester. “The story has to come first”, Luke explained how even if a song was brilliant, if it wasn’t fitting the story, it had to go.
When asked if they had a target audience in mind during the shows creation, Luke revealed how when he directs a show, he thinks of his grandmother, his mother, his sister and his niece to make sure there is a part of the show that each of them will enjoy. He feels like Backstreet Boys songs in the musical will give millennials a sense of nostalgia, and newer songs by artists like Ariana Grande will be recognised more by a younger audience member. When starting rehearsals he recalled being surprised how Miriam Teak Lee (Juliet) wasn’t too familiar with “…baby one more time” which he mistakenly expected just everybody to know off by heart.
David explained that with a wide spread target audience in mind, he had written the 8 main characters to all represent different generations and genders. He said how rewarding is has been to use a Shakespeare story to represent the world as it is now.
Both David and Luke agreed that setting the tone of the show and communicating what it is proved to be the biggest challenge.
Luke described how he regards the show as a new musical with the way the songs are reimagined, even though it can be classed as jukebox as it uses Max Martin’s catalogue.
The fusion of Shakespeare and pop music as the theme of the show made it difficult for the team to convey what it was. David explained how they started with a lot of Shakespearean language in the script which was ultimately dropped as it was hard to follow. Both agreed that it is something that is best experienced to fully understand. “Just come, it’s not what you think it’s going to be.” Says David.
After the Q&A we were treated to a backstage tour by the wonderful Chris Parkinson (@chrisjparkinson), a swing (covering the whole ensemble parts) in the show. This was such a delight to see the hand painted scenery up close and experience the cramped wings that the company of 30 all have to negotiate through for each performance. Below are a few pictures we took, plus some links to the vlogs made by our new friends so you can see the tour for yourself!
Rather than a tech rehearsal after the tour, we were able to watch the first 20 minutes of the full dress rehearsal. This was the full opening of the show including “Larger Than Life”, “…Baby One More Time” and “I Want It That Way”. Having seen the show in Manchester (check out our review!) we knew what to expect. It was great to see the reactions of everyone experiencing it for the first time too. Seeing that part of the show again ignited a need to get ourselves some tickets to see it at its new west end home as it looks amazing and is a such a great venue. Thanks to Theatre Craft for the most wonderful experience!
& Juliet begins performances on 2nd November 2019 and is currently booking until the end of May 2020
Theatre Craft is an organisation that promote off-stage careers in the arts for people under 30. They have a free career event at the Royal Opera House in London on 11th November. Visit their Instagram @theatrecraft and website https://www.theatrecraft.org/ to book your free place!
Thanks also to London Theatre (@londontheatre) for organising the event and having us as a part of it.