Tag Archives: Tom Sowinski

Shakespeare’s R & J


Reading Rep Theatre

SHAKESPEARE’S R & J at the Reading Rep Theatre


Shakespeare's R&J

“Elijah Ferreira gives a stunning performance as Romeo.”

This intriguing show was written by American Director Joe Calarco in 1997. It translates Romeo and Juliet’s ‘star-crossed lovers’ into pupils who act out the play at a repressive Catholic boys boarding school. The idea of containing a play within a play was very much Shakespeare’s own. A cast of just four are all on stage together for almost the entire evening as we see Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ unfold through their adolescent eyes. Maybe ten percent of the text is new, including some of Shakespeare’s sonnets, latin drill – ‘amo, amas, amat’ and words from ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’. Right at the start it’s established that Student 1 has feelings for Student 2 and it’s these two that take on the roles of Romeo and Juliet – in intense performances that don’t always get the approval of their fellows.

A note in the programme by Director and Company founder Paul Stacey underlines their commitment to giving voice to the under-represented including those that identify as LGBTQIA+. This powerful production does just that in a way that some may find poses a playful challenge to their expectations. And if a few traditionalists are offended by this re-purposing of such a familiar text, that is their loss.

Elijah Ferreira gives a stunning performance as Romeo. Every word is carefully weighed and delivered with exacting clarity and dedication to meaning. He uses gesture with almost telegraphic expressiveness. Brayden Emmanuel is physically much taller than Ferreira and as Student 2, his involving and energetic Juliet defies any expectation of camp girlishness.

“a lively and rich-textured show”

Luke Daniels is Mercutio, Friar Laurence and Lady Capulet. Expect theatrical fireworks from the start of the second half when Romeo learns of his banishment. Daniel also shines as Lady Capulet in the scene that follows, as well as giving his own take on Mercutio’s memorable ‘Queen Mab’ speech about dreams. Tom Sowinski has some great comic moments as the Nurse and then flips into the brawling Tybalt in the duel with Mercutio.

A clever and beautiful set by Anna Kelsey literally steams with the intensity of the drama and integrates some pleasing lighting (John Rainsforth) which adds great atmosphere to this intimate and involving studio piece. The costumes ring true whilst avoiding the colour coding of the houses of Montague and Capulet seen in some productions of ‘Romeo and Juliet’.

The play within the play employs some stylised devices to considerable effect. A shouting chorus of disapproval condemns the young lovers. Swords become ropes and cloth. Action is slowed. The boy actors (or is it the Shakespearean characters?) observe each other performing and we see their reactions to the story they are unfolding.

Jamie Lu’s sound design is strong on thunder and lightning and for those that know it, there are some touching ‘Heart Stopper’ moments as the two young lovers get together.

This is a lively and rich-textured show that was a delight to watch.


SHAKESPEARE’S R & J at the Reading Rep Theatre

Reviewed on 16th October 2023

by David Woodward

Photography by Harry Elletson





Previously reviewed at this venue:

Hedda Gabler | ★★★★★ | February 2023
Dorian | ★★★★ | October 2021

Shakespeare’s R & J

Shakespeare’s R & J

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A Midsummer Night’s Dream


Wilton’s Music Hall

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Wilton’s Music Hall

Reviewed – 29th January 2020



“keeps a smile on the face throughout, finding glorious new dimensions and unexpected joyful twists”


With a sprinkling of fairy dust and a liberal injection of soul, the Watermill Theatre’s enchanting version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream will put a spell on you.

This Dream’s a scream – and with its Edwardian setting fits perfectly into Wilton’s Music Hall. The Shakespearian shadows at the heart of this comedy certainly don’t offend and one senses the ghosts of variety past may be smiling in approval.

It is a play performed so often it takes something special to breathe new life into it and director Paul Hart and a bright young company do the Bard proud with a simply staged version that tells the story with clarity and manages to be joyfully creative too.

There’s some terrific doubling and mirroring of roles, several different to the “normal” and sometimes it’s hard to remember there are just ten performers in the Watermill Ensemble such are the quick changes and versatility of the company.

One innovative reflection here is that balancing out the down to earth thespianism of the Rude Mechanicals the fairies are all trampish shadows of some of the great music hall clowns, such as Fred Karno and Charlie Chaplin.

The Athens set (great stripped back design throughout from Katie Lias) appears to be backstage at a Victorian/Edwardian theatre, all ladders and fly ropes, which is transformed into the magical forest by the falling and raising of a red curtain and a beautifully ornate backcloth. The question being suggested is where the melodrama of real life ends and the otherworldly theatricality begins. Tom White’s lighting adds its own ethereal depth.

We are warned in advance that Lauryn Redding, due to play Bottom, is out of action following an accident during a performance of Macbeth, which runs in repertory with this production, and the 11th hour replacement is Victoria Blunt, who has played the role with the company previously.

There is no need to make any allowance for the substitution as this must be one of the best Bottoms ever seen. In what will go down in history as one of the truly great Shakespeare performances, Blunt finds comedy in every single line and action. Her weaver is a bluff and cheerful Northerner, childlike and cheerful, foolish and charismatic. There are some lovely moments where the fellow mechanicals gaze at her in wonder, enchanted by her daft artistry.

It’s a scene-stealing performance of the highest quality, yet such is the skill of the company and the director that it never overshadows the rest. This is exceptional ensemble work with the actors also playing instruments and delivering some pitch perfect albeit wonderfully incongruous versions of songs ranging from Sam Cooke’s Cupid and Jay Hawkins’ I Put a Spell on You to Laura Mvula’s Sing to the Moon. Joey Hickman’s arrangements conjure up moments of magic themselves.

Molly Chesworth is a sprightly and less than deferential Puck, as fed up with the power games of Oberon (a haughtily smooth and sexy Jamie Satterthwaite) as queen of the fairies Titania (a sultry Emma McDonald).

McDonald doubles as Hippolyta who is equally dismissive of her imperious new husband Theseus (Tow Sowinski who, in a clever and wry touch, also plays Snout the tinker, who in turn plays the ill-treated wall in the hilarious Pyramus and Thisbe play within a play) while Peter Mooney tries to keep the amateur actors in order as an enjoyably enthusiastic Peter Quince.

Robyn Sinclair shows off a magnificent singing voice and a talent for comedy as Helena, one of the four unfortunate lovers toyed with by the playful fairies in the forest. The quartet connects exquisitely and is completed by a dashing Billy Postlethwaite (Lysander), Lucy Keirl (Hermia) and Mike Slader (Demetrius).

This reimagined vibrant version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream keeps a smile on the face throughout, finding glorious new dimensions and unexpected joyful twists to this familiar piece that never loses its lustre.


Reviewed by David Guest

Photography by Pamela Raith



A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Wilton’s Music Hall until 15th February


Previously reviewed at this venue:
The Good, The Bad And The Fifty | ★★★★ | February 2019
The Pirates Of Penzance | ★★★★ | February 2019
The Shape Of the Pain | ★★★★★ | March 2019
The Talented Mr Ripley | ★★★★ | May 2019
The Sweet Science Of Bruising | ★★★★ | June 2019
Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story | ★★★★★ | September 2019
This Is Not Right | ★★★★ | October 2019
Much Ado About Nothing | ★★★★ | November 2019
Christmas Carol – A Fairy Tale | ★★★★ | December 2019
Macbeth | ★★★★ | January 2020


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