A starry cast led by Evening Standard award winner Tyrone Huntley, Olivier award winner Sharon D.Clarke and RTS award winner Tony Maudsley, bring to vivid life Ripley Theatre’s recording of The Sheep Chronicles: Rameo and Eweliet.
The story of two flocks, the black Ramulets and the white Mintagewes, this reworking of the timeless classic (aimed at 6 to 11 year olds) combines riotous humour, a great dollop of Shakespeare’s original verse, and a score adapted by Josh Bird from the Romeo & Juliet classical repertoire (Bellini, Berlioz, Gounod & Tchaikovsky) making it the perfect introduction to the Baaaaard.
First up we have cast members; Tony Maudsley (TM), Kate Hume (KH) and Haydn Oakley (HO). Tell me about the piece and your character?
TM: Well its basically Romeo & Juliet with wool and feathers instead of breeches and doublets, sprinkled with lots of Lesley Ross’s sparkle, humour and magic. Rameo & Eweliet is the very accessible version of Shakespeare’s masterpiece, reborn with youngsters in mind and giving them a little leg up onto the literary journey that they’ll no doubt cross paths with further along in their educational careers. Kids, if given the choice, will often pick up a Shakespeare play and immediately discard it when faced with the unfamiliar language and what is to them, an unnatural way of speaking. In Rameo & Eweliet, Lesley Ross has cleverly amalgamated the old with the new, thus allowing the young listener to taste the old without having to be overwhelmed by it, whilst still being able to enjoy the plots and themes and magic of the original.
In the piece, I play Flyer Lawrence, the feathered, flying owl version of the Shakespeare’s wise old monk. The animal version of Friar Lawrence of course had to be an owl. Both bumbling, wise and suspicious in equal measures, though the Flyer, in my opinion, has the edge over the Friar in that he can do a 360 degree head spin…a huge asset in a farmyard where you don’t know who you can trust and who you can’t!!
HO: ‘Rameo & Eweliet’ is a new and exciting project from the creative mind that brought you ‘Barry The Penguin’s Black & White Christmas’. It is an imaginative and interesting take on Shakespeare’s classic love story. But with sheep!? I play Tybalt, the short-tempered cousin of Eweliet our heroine. Eweliet … get it?
KH: So, the piece follows the story of two flocks of sheep; the Ramulets and the Mintagewes. It is a lovely retelling of the classic Shakespeare story, aimed at children and with the addition of songs, set to well known tunes. My character is Eweliet – she is a feisty and fearless animal, belonging to the black Ramulet family.
What was your initial impression of the script?
HO: I felt impressed by the imaginative and engaging way it introduced a new audience to the classic story. We are always looking for ways to reengage with Shakespeare and this is another example of how versatile and gifted a writer he was … a bit like Lesley Ross
KH: I thought it was very clever and extremely funny – and I still do! The farmyard setting means that is easily accessible for children but a lot of the subtle humour will appeal to adults too.
TM: My first impression of the script was one of sheer delight. It was clear, condensed, entertaining, and wonderfully funny, without skipping over the more tragic and serious themes of the original. The great thing about this script is that you’re not being thrown in at the deep end. It takes you gently by the hand and leads you into a world that is new in many ways but that doesn’t completely alienate you and make you feel like you want to run for the hills. The script lifts from the page beautifully and with the addition of modern lyrics set to some of the best classical music ever written, translates to being one of the best educational tools I’ve ever come across.
Was it easy to translate from the page to the recording?
KH: Some of the script is made up of the original language, so that was a joy to record! After listening to the final recording, I feel as though the further script and songs, which are more modern, blend beautifully with the traditional Shakespearian words. I think it reads very well and I am very proud to be a part of it!
HO: I think that it is Lesley who would best be able to answer that, but I’m constantly impressed by the way he can take a story and rework it. Lesley’s imagination is one of his best qualities as a writer but his fearlessness in creating a piece of work like this is also abundantly apparent here. Romeo & Juliet but with farm animals. I suspect he might have been reading George Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’ around the time he formulated this idea.
Did you have any ideas about what you wanted to bring to the role?
HO: I wanted to bring a touch of menace to the role. Having previously played a Penguin detective with a dry sense of humour for the same writer, it was great to play a character with a different set of emotions. Tybalt is angry at the world and I think that comes across in his words and the way he sings in the musical.
KH: I wanted to ensure that Eweliet came across as courageous and dynamic. I think it is easy for the female romantic character to fall into the soppy and slushy category (!) so I knew I would like to avoid this.
What would you say to encourage people to buy the recording?
TM: Buy this recording and use it as an educational tool. Buy this recording if you want to tease your kids away from their X Boxes for an hour. Or buy this recording just to kick back with a cup of tea and sit back with your feet up and be highly entertained for a while. Lesley has pulled together some of the best talent that the London’s West End stage has to offer and neatly packaged their colossal skills with an upbeat and delightful interpretation of one of the greatest love stories ever told. I promise you, your kids won’t be disappointed and neither will you!
KH: There are so many elements to this piece – new writing, Shakespearean text, classical music, original lyrics and a great cast (!) that it is impossible not to enjoy!
HO: This musical is a great way for people to engage with a classic story. Whether 5 or 105 this story can speak to you. It has a great sense of humour and is also a superb introduction to classical music as the songs are all set to the likes of Bellini and Tchaikovsky.
Also the recording has a pretty stellar cast. Lesley has brought together a pretty impressive line-up of West End theatre performers to give his writing the best possible chance of being accessible to his audience. It’s worth listening to simply to hear the words spoken by the likes of Sharon D Clarke and Julie Atherton (Lady Ramulet and Lady Mintagewe respectively).
Thanks to all for excellent answers! I can’t wait to listen to this.
Next up is the Author, Lesley Ross…
Tell me about the piece and your inspiration for it
I have always loved Shakespeare, ever since I played Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, aged 10. And as a young drama student I fell in love with Gounod’s opera Romeo and Juliette. So, having co-written several family musicals that featured sheep, and having recently adapted The Little Tempest for the National Theatre, when I was given the opportunity to work with a youth company on a new musical for their Edinburgh Fringe Festival jaunt, I suggested turning R & J into a family show using plenty of the original verse and a series of songs based on the R & J classical repertoire. Hence the use of Bellini, Berlioz, Tchaikovsky and of course plenty of Gounod.
Did you have initial ideas about casting and what you wanted actors to bring to the piece?
As it was a show about division, and division drawn on colour lines, I definitely wanted a diverse cast, but I also wanted there to be colour blind casting, because they are ultimately not humans, but sheep, and therefore any actor could fit into any flock, irrespective of their colour. When we did the original show, the Ramulets were written as black sheep and the Mintagewes as white sheep for no other reason than the sizes of the sheep costumes that we had to hand. It was as simple as that. Beyond the diversity of the cast, the most important thing for me was getting to the truth of the situation, to remember that even though it was set on a farm and intended for young people, it was imperative that the listening audience believed what was going on. I had worked with the actor Kate Hume on Barry the Penguin’s Black and White Christmas and having watched the truth that she brings to any situation, she was always my first choice for Eweliet. Then, after seeing Tyrone Huntley in Memphis and Jesus Christ Superstar, I was determined to get him for my Romeo. For each of the other characters I had between one and three people in mind and in every case I somehow managed to get someone on my list. So I have been very lucky in that respect. Very lucky!
What do you hope the audience will take away from the piece?
Well, hopefully it is a message of love, that love can overcome hate, however tragic the circumstances. We live in very divisive times and at one point both leaders of the flocks sing “They’ve a point of view… Should they matter, too?” and that to me is the heart of the piece: to try and understand the other point of view. I also hope that any younger listeners may come to their next Shakespeare or their next piece of classical music unafraid to open themselves up to the verse, or to music they are unfamiliar with. In this piece, whenever there is heightened drama the characters tend speak Shakespeare’s verse or burst into song and hopefully we have guided the audience well enough that they accept these conventions without pause.
Finally, any advice for budding writers?
Write. Write. And write some more. Don’t be afraid to fail (I have, many times). Observe people, listen to what they say and compare it to what they do. And most importantly, don’t be afraid to let your noble characters do bad things, and your evil characters do good things. Oh, and be prepared to be relatively poor (and that even goes for when you are successful) … cos a life of creativity is totally worth it!
Thanks Lesley, you’re an inspiration and Break A Leg wish you every success with this and beyond…!