& Juliet is the irreverent and fun-loving new West End musical, Oliver Tompsett who plays Shakespeare took some time out for a chat.
1. You play William Shakespeare in the musical. What does it feel like to play one of the most famous writers, poets and actors in history?
Soooo exciting. I get to create a totally new and contemporary incarnation of Shakespeare. Even though in & Juliet the show is historically correct in places, we are presenting characters like Shakespeare and Shakespeare’s wife Anne Hathaway (yes that was her real name!) in a modern, fun, edgier way that fits in well with the contemporary pop soundtrack. Just being called Shakespeare gives you a huge amount of status and respect before you’ve even opened your mouth. I like to think that William Shakespeare has done the hard work for me already.
2. Does your character speak in classic Shakespearean verse and prose in the musical?
A lot of our script, especially mine, is like a modern manifestation of Shakespearean language which is brilliantly crafted by our book writer David West Read. I think the Shakespeare purist will notice this clever little detail but it’s also written in a fashion that is clear, funny and won’t alienate those less familiar with verse and prose.
3. The musical features an incredible score from prolific songwriter Max Martin. What is your favourite track to perform on stage and why?
I grew up in the boyband heyday so there are a bucket load of tunes that I adore in this show. Some huge hits of Max’s haven’t made it into the show because they don’t serve our story. How lucky are we to have a catalogue of hit songs to choose from that we don’t need a particular Number 1 hit because there is another Number 1 that fits our story better! This isn’t me sitting on the fence. The honest truth is that they are all incredible songs!
4. You’ve played in many West End productions including Wicked, Rock of Ages and We Will Rock You. What has been your favourite role so far and why?
Hard to choose! Rock of Ages was PARTY! We Will Rock You was a rock concert! Wicked is just a classy Broadway smash! Kinky Boots is unique! But I think Sky in Guys & Dolls was my favourite so far – you can’t beat a really good book in a musical! I think Shakespeare in & Juliet is shaping up to be a career highlight for me and my new favourite!
5. Will the cast be wearing traditional Shakespearean costumes in the show?
I have seen some of the costume designs and it is so exciting. From what I have seen it is a collaboration of modern day fashion and Shakespearean style costumes which fits well with the two worlds of Shakespeare and pop music. 6. How much choreography can we expect to see in & Juliet and what dance styles can audiences expect to see in the show?
You are asking the wrong person about naming choreography haha! In my day it was called street jazz or commercial or break dance which I think is featured in the show but they probably call it something different …Hip Hop? Is that what the kids call it? All I know is from what we worked on in the last workshop phase of & Juliet our choreographer has the brilliance to make you feel like you’re watching a pop video whilst telling as much story as the book and music is doing alongside it. Our cast is among THE best triple threat I have ever worked with.
7. Can you reveal anything about the set design for & Juliet yet?
I’ve only seen rough pictures but it looks flexible and funky. It will have the ability to make you feel like you are watching something at the Globe and in the blink of an eye transport you to a Katy Perry style concert.
8. Shakespeare and pop music are a unique combination! How do the two blend together?
Shakespeare was popular culture in his time and I imagine that he must have been somewhat of a rock star at the height of his career. Pop music is confident, exciting and empowering but in the same breath a good pop ballad can move you to tears and express heartache the same way a good old tragedy can – with the right arrangements – which we have in abundance
9. Finally, what can audiences expect when they come and see & Juliet?
A huge “What if?” plot line. Everyone knows Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet ending but now we ask “what if?”… What if Juliet felt strong enough to move on?… What if Juliet was empowered enough to find love elsewhere?… With the help of his wife, William Shakespeare agrees reluctantly to co-write an alternative ending for Juliet. Throughout this hysterically comic farce, we see Shakespeare’s wife take control of the quill and with every attempt she makes to make Juliet happy, William Shakespeare pulls the plot back to the tragic fate he originally had planned for Juliet. Does he get his way or do the women come out on top? You’ll have to come and see. One thing you can be sure of is along the way this comedy musical is accompanied by the finest collection of pop songs you could imagine. It just happens that Max Martin has had a hand in all of them as a writer and a producer.
10. What are you most looking forward to about performing in Manchester?
The audiences. I hear from friends who have performed there that they are like no other. I think that Manchester is the perfect place for & Juliet to start and find its feet. Manchester has an affinity with pop music like no other city. I know the audiences are going to be loud, responsive and a massive part of the concert aspect of our show. My part in particular has to have a huge rapport with the audience so I can’t wait to work that relationship.
For information on the Manchester dates click here