Six actresses play Juliet in unconventional look at tragic heroine


The creative director of the play Redefining Juliet, which has six actresses playing the heroine, said William Shakespeare himself would be far from shocked to see Juliet Capulet played by a disabled woman.

The play, which is the subject of a BBC documentary, sees Shakespeare's heroine played by six different actresses different from the conventional Juliets: tall, deaf, wheelchair-bound, small, large, they all take a turn in the role.

Creative director Storme Toolis, who is a wheelchair user and one of the Juliets, said: "I think if he saw what we were doing, I don't think he would be hugely offended and shocked and like: 'Oh my goodness who are these people playing these roles'.

"Because you have to remember that in his time, Juliet was played by a boy, a 14-year-old boy. We've never even gone down that road. If we were to do that now, goodness knows the kind of controversy that would emerge as a result of that. I think he would want his plays never to go out of fashion, which is what we're trying to do."

Storme Toolis, the creative director of Redefining Juliet
Storme Toolis is the play's creative director (BBC/Many Rivers Ltd/Maya Nogradi)

The actress, who has starred in New Tricks and The Inbetweeners Movie, told the Press Association she had dreamt of playing the character since she was a teenager.

She said: "It came from personal ambition, but it grew from there into a bigger point about what it means to be beautiful and how you're perceived, whether you're a desirable category of person or not on the stage.

"Because stage and screen affect real life, so if you're not seen like that on stage or on screen, how can you be seen like that in real life?"

She explained: "Disabled people are not naturally perceived as very sexy people.

"What you see in the media and what you see in the world - you don't see disabled burlesque dancers, you don't see somebody who is a Victoria's Secret model in a wheelchair.

Some of the stars of Redefining Juliet
Some of the stars of Redefining Juliet (BBC/Many Rivers Ltd/Maya Nogradi)

"You don't see that, because that's not what society wants to see, and it's not what we've come to know as what's beautiful and what's attractive and what's confident, and that's what I'm trying to change."

But Storme, who has cerebral palsy, said it could take many years before a disabled or non-conventional Juliet is cast in a mainstream Shakespeare production.

She said: "I think that it will take a long time. I think that we're in the right era of things now, where diversity is a big conversation in the world, in theatre and the arts, and media and television and everything else. So I think now is the moment to do it.

"I don't think it's going to take five years, it could take 10 years, it could take a long time, but what I would like to achieve is Juliet in the mainstream.

"Even just being asked to audition for Juliet if you weren't slim size eight blonde and what Juliet looks like, would be such a big deal."

Redefining Juliet will be broadcast on BBC 4 on May 1 at 10pm as part of Shakespeare season.