Talking Theatre: Actress Aamira Challenger Discusses Romeo and Juliet
Omidaze Productions presentation of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet,which runs at Wales Millennium Centre until May 14, pulls together a variety of themes including citizenship, civil disturbance, conflict. questioning of authority and experts, anger, ugly scenes on the streets, abuse and tragic consequences.
Shakespeare’s story is far from outdated however and as Andy Howells discovers from Aamira Challenger, who plays Juliet in the new production, the text is still very relevant today.
How did you get into acting?
My mum enrolled me in ballet and tap classes when I was a child. I grew up in North London, where I joined the local youth theatre and I got the opportunity to see lots of live theatre and fell in love with it! So after doing a History degree I started my formal actor training in New York, before moving back to London to do an MA in Classical Acting.
What’s your role in the new production of Romeo and Juliet and is this a role you’ve always longed to play?
I play Juliet and the Capulet servant. We’re an ensemble of six so most of us play more than one character. I’ve always thought Juliet is a fantastic character; I think she's a bright, compassionate, and brave young girl, however she's a product of her violent environment. She's a such wonderful character, it's a shame that the play doesn't find her in more positive circumstances.
What’s different about this production than any others people will have seen?
Yvonne Murphy (our director) has a curiosity for story-telling through circus, so we have two aerial circus performers in the ensemble (Gemma Creasey and Hannah O’Leary). They each play 3 characters, using hoops, ropes and silks suspended from the ceiling. This means that some of the play’s action happens at height, so audiences get the thrill of circus along with one of Shakespeare’s most famous plays. We also don't use traditional theatre seating so audiences are encouraged to move around the space, and sit or stand wherever they can best see the action!
The production also features a mixed gender blind and colour-blind cast how interesting has that been to have in the process?
Interestingly, I’ve barely noticed it! Ultimately, we’re story-tellers, and it's our job to use our imaginations, and the words that Shakespeare gives us, to share the story of Romeo and Juliet with our audiences. If we do our job well, hopefully they’ll let their imaginations run wild too!
Do you think Shakespeare’s words still have relevance and prominence in today’s society?Absolutely! The warring families in Romeo and Juliet have created a broken society in Verona and unfortunately, it's arguable that many societies in the UK and around the world are broken today; people from all backgrounds are hurting. On the flip side, I’m fascinated by Shakespeare and classical text because of its ability to still make us laugh! This just shows that we’re not so different from people who lived 500 years before us.
The rehearsal process has already been shared with school students across Wales – how well has it been received so far?
Rehearsing in schools has been such a highlight of the rehearsal process. Students were given the chance to be assistant directors and gave us lots of ideas to play with. Children also seem to have a knack for Shakespeare, probably because they have such free imaginations and really love stories. Some of the best Shakespeare I’ve ever seen was by 7-year-olds at a Shakespeare Schools Festival.
Would this presentation be a good introduction to the work of Shakespeare?
I think this is a great introduction to Shakespeare. The show runs at 1hr 45mins and audience have the freedom to move around and get comfy, making it good for families with children as young as 7. And for anyone who already loves Shakespeare or is reluctant because of it being ‘old and boring’, we’ve given it a new twist by using aerial circus. There's something for everyone.
Finally what role would you like to play in the future and why?
That’s a tricky question because I usually fall in love with the character I’m researching or rehearsing. I think I’d really like to play Edmund, from King Lear, because although he’s a bit of a villain, his speeches are full of humour. I’d also love to do some Restoration comedy, with big dresses and wigs and fans, I think that would be a lot of fun.