This is Shakespeare but reaching out to a different world than when it was first penned…
INSPIRED by – and almost like a real-life – Billy Elliot story himself, Bally Gill takes centre stage as ‘Romeo’ in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s latest production of the classic, ‘Romeo and Juliet’ in Stratford-Upon-Avon.
Gill, 25, grew up in Coventry and went to a school, where they had no drama department, little record of high academic achievement and describes himself as an average student from a working-class background.
It is his passion for acting and drama which has now catapulted him into one of the most prestigious positions an actor can hold – and it could well inspire a new generation in a production which appears to be imaginative and more attuned to our times.
“I never thought in a million years I could do Shakespeare or someone like me could do this and be a Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) actor,” Gill confessed to www.asianculturevulture.com ahead of the play’s opening night on Saturday (April 21) and press night next week (May 1).
“I never thought I would be accepted into the RSC (because of his ‘ordinary’ background), but they have been nothing but family to me. They have given me opportunities, other theatres didn’t. I thought to be an RSC actor, you had to look and sound a certain way,” he revealed in a soft Midlands accent.
He started work for the RSC in 2016, appearing in ‘Coriolanus’, among other productions, but ‘Romeo and Juliet’ is a step into the spotlight – as he stars in this production, directed by Erica Whyman, deputy RSC artistic director – and alongside Karen Fishwick as ‘Juliet’, in her RSC debut.
The latest production won’t be ‘classical’ in several respects – the clothes will be contemporary and the accents natural – and while it won’t go as far as having mobile phones or guns in this perennial Shakespeare favourite, it is likely to have a more urban, gritty and ‘real’ style than anything you might glean from just the text itself.
Gill is thrilled to be presenting his individual and unique interpretation of Romeo.
“You see great actors such as (Sir) Mark Rylance, (Dame) Judi Dench and all the people who have come before and done Shakespeare and unless you can see someone else like you, it does seem a little bit hard to see yourself doing Shakespeare – even if it is only subconsciously, it’s a certain demographic of people doing it over and over again, and while I actually love all those actors, it’s very hard to go and actually do that.”
He said he would love to do it the classical way too, but what is important about this particular production, he believes, is that it has something quite different and novel to offer.
He revealed that Whyman has asked him to bring his own experience of life into the character of Romeo and therefore present something we may not have seen before, especially in a Shakespearean context – and there is a diversity among the cast too.
“You have to realise that I am myself and I come with a whole new and different set of experiences and a different ethnicity – and what I need to do is my version of what Romeo is, rather than their (classical) version of the character.
“I can do it like me and it can be me as Romeo.”
To our ears and eyes, this is an exhilerating and laudable objective and a way of connecting young people with a piece of theatre which still has challenges.
“It has the metallic feel of London,” Gill enthused. “Erica Whyman asked me lots of questions about my upbringing and that is being put into the play.
“I am interested in who young people are today; the play has been opened up to interpretation, we have loads of characters that are usually played by men being reprised by women. I am looking forward to how people react to Romeo, and telling me about it.”
He trained at the Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance in Kent and his first professional stint was with the play ‘Dinner With Saddam’.
“I learnt a lot specifically from two actors on that – Sanjeev Bhasker is like the King of Comedy and Steven Berkoff is King of Movement and a very physical actor.
“It was a bit of culture shock, for the first part (in rehearsals) I was standing in and reading for the main parts and I was opposite Sanjeev Bhasker and – thinking I used to watch you as a kid,” he confided, sniggering.
His hunger for acting came after seeing the West End musical ‘Billy Elliot’.
Based on the film, it tells the story of a redundant miner’s son who wants to become a ballet dancer, but faces many obstacles as someone from that background and living in the north.
“It really clicked with me – about a person who wanted to do something more and wasn’t really allowed to do it and it was something he was very good at.
“My Dad and I used to go to musicals, and I remember we were coming back from a show in London, and I just said to him on the train, ‘I really want to do what they do’; I was about 14 at the time.
“Dad’s always been very supportive and I was a shy child and he said: ‘How are we going to do that – acting?’ It was always very practical with him.”
Gill got involved in youth theatre and even though his school couldn’t cater for his interest, he pursued it with great determination and believes things are changing.
“Aim for the stars and see what’s possible.
“I am not going to lie – acting was a massive help in bringing out my personality.
“I couldn’t articulate and use to find words and speaking hard, then once I started doing acting – it’s like a muscle,” he beamed figuratively. “I am still learning but my advice is to think big and work three times as hard as the person next to you.
“Have self-confidence – not arrogance – you are everything that you are – and you can do anything,” he said, admirably.
Billy Elliot, eat your heart out!
Pictures: Courtesy of the ©RSC
‘Romeo and Juliet’ at the Royal Shakespeare Company, Startford-Upon-Avon till September 21
Royal Shakespeare Company, Waterside, Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire CV37 6BB.
Live broadcast in cinemas, July 18.
Then Barbican London November 2-January 19 2019 and then on UK tour – check https://www.rsc.org.uk/whats-on/