Shalisha James-Davis, who plays Nurse Paige Allcott in BBC 1 drama, Casualty, is making her Royal Exchange stage debut in a fiery retelling of Shakespeare’s tragic love story. She talks to Quays Life about what it’s like to recreate one of the Shakespeare’s most famous characters in such a well-loved play.
What is it like to portray one of the most famous stage characters and how do you make it your own?
Shalisha: “It is a real honour to play Juliet in Romeo and Juliet. She is a multi-faceted and multi-layered character – she is a strong female lead so it is really exciting to bring her to life. I am excited to make it my own as I do with all other characters I play. I try to relate to her and her themes and journey as much as possible to make it my own… to bring uniqueness and a grounding to the character”.
What do you remember about the first production of Romeo and Juliet you saw?
Shalisha: “I remember reading the play in school and not understanding a word of it. But then when I watched the movie with Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes it all made sense – it was exciting and bright and funny and heartbreaking. Sometimes you have to take the words from the page for it to come alive – that’s why it’s called a play!”
Why do you think audiences are still so fascinated by Romeo and Juliet?
Shalisha: “I think often we think this play is a love story but actually it is a tragedy. And I think if we are all honest, we do love a tragedy, especially if we know how it is going to end as well. We are really into spoiler alerts at the moment!
“So having a story that we know how it ends and things like that is quite satisfying. But I think that it is really relatable in our society as well, as two households like we have two political parties – we are in a very binary society so having warring houses and warring streets and communities is something that we can quite relate to”.
How is the unique space of the Royal Exchange used in this production?
Shalisha: “Well I dont want to give too much away really – but considering that the story happens in such a short space of time, that is the time line is very short, the scene changes are able to be made quite dramatically and dynamically with it being in the round. With how high the ceilings go we are also having to consider every seat in the house. But yeah, come and see it as I dont want to give too much away!”
What is the setting for this production?
Shalisha: “We are setting it in Manchester – so it will still be Verona but has a very Mancunian feel to it”.
What’s it like working with Nicholai La Barrie?
Shalisha: “He is fantastic. He has created such an open and collaborative space in the rehearsal room. It is really delicious, so vibrant and everybody is just giving everything they have got to each character and making brilliant decisions and choices with the journeys of each role they are playing. It is working really well and I think that is down to the atmosphere and the space that he has created. He is also just really funny. I think he is hilarious”.
Why should someone come to see this show?
Shalisha: “I think everybody should see theatre as a general rule but this play in particular is so relevant and so vibrant. It is so magical and heartbreaking and heart-warming at the same time.
“So come with your family, come with your loved ones. Fall in love with Romeo and Juliet – it is super cute, a really cool play, and a really special version for Manchester at the moment”.
What would you say to someone who was a bit nervous about watching a Shakespeare play?
Shalisha: “I would say if you want to see a Shakespeare play for the first time, it can obviously feel really overwhelming but I would suggest picking one character on stage from the play and follow their journey and the decisions that they make throughout. And when they come on stage and off it will start to piece together.
“Then when you go home your brain will be able to piece together what the other characters were up to. So try not to get too overwhelmed and bogged down with what everybody is doing and saying all the time”.
Shalisha plays Juliet in the Royal Exchange Theatre production of Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare Directed by Nicholai La Barrie from 20 October – 18 November. Age Guidance 12+