The Junior Play from 19th- 20th May (the first of two this summer) was the second Cranleigh production of Sharman MacDonald’s ‘After Juliet’, the first being soon after it was written (1999). It was especially appropriate to have ‘After Juliet’ after ‘Romeo and Juliet’, though exams did not allow Martin Allison’s ‘star-crossed’ stars to reappear in Emily Sinclair’s accomplished show. The ‘dead’ lovers were played by Leo Leman and Eliza Boyd, who hovered over the action from their elevated tomb with charisma and real presence; their powers of concentration showed real stamina and embodied the seriousness of purpose that all 24 actors brought to the play. The care taken over the show was evident from Mark Jenkins’s set: substantial scaffolding and striking graffiti art by Tom St Johnston and Liv Walliker, as well as a logo banner that also hung outside the theatre.
As in Shakespeare the Montague and Capulet lads own the streets, despite an uneasy truce, and Hector, Theo, Mike, Arthur, Ben, Benj and Hugo combined the gang machismo with a real care over individual characterisation. The same was true of the female gang of Juliet’s cousins (Genevieve, Poppy, Ellie and Millie) led by the flouncing Florence Livingstone. I was especially impressed with the narrators Percy Walker-Smith and Sam Barnard, resplendent in top hats and skull-topped canes: they had some difficult lines to deliver, as the play combines some earthy dialogue with poetic verses in an attempt to follow Shakespeare’s masterful variety of language.
Ellie Cox was a sympathetic, confident Nurse, one of so many in the cast who will surely go on to parts in future school plays as will the excellent Antonia Taor as Livia. Dillon Stringemore cut a strong figure as Petruchio, the surprisingly peaceable brother of Tybalt, whose failure to be elected as the next Prince of Cats means that the feud will go on. The other male leads were the charming Jack McKee as Benvolio (talented enough to graduate to the original role one day) and Will Chambers as Valentine who had the strength, vocal prowess and physical presence to balance the main role, Rosaline.
The scenes with Bianca were special highlights and Chessie Gillott rose to the challenge to heartbreaking emotional effect: a very convincing portrayal of a ‘petit mal’ sufferer. The scene in which PJ Cunningham sang her ‘True Colors’ lullaby was very touching, as was the superbly well-tuned a cappella rendition of ‘Mad World’. Tears for Fears is an appropriate phrase for the hallucination scene with the white-masked dancers and the disturbing screams. Another striking scene was set in the elevated tomb onto which the actors shone small torches to create an eerie lighting effect; the torches then became small microphones in a clever little touch typical of the care over detail by director Emily Sinclair and her assistant, Bee Hardcastle. Ned, Ben, Seb and Henry, together with all other backstage helpers are to be thanked for their technical expertise.
But this, in the end, is Rosaline’s play and no director would undertake this very serious, adult piece without a remarkable actress to cast in the lead. Molly La Fosse was stunning on the first night (following an open dress rehearsal with an audience from Cranleigh Prep) and in her long soliloquy the concentration in the audience was palpable. Just to learn the lines for a part like this is a major undertaking, but Molly became Rosaline in a very profound sense: the excellent costume design by Fiona Lockton (and the black lipstick) will have helped her feel confident of impersonation, but Molly’s understanding of the emotional demands of the part went much deeper. I can imagine she reached even greater heights on the following nights and I am sure there will be many major roles for her in the next three years. This was an assured debut for director Emily Sinclair, the youngest in a line of colleagues whose plays have led me to prefer so often the special enthusiasm of school plays to professional productions. I hope she will stay to direct many more.