First Encounters with Shakespeare in the North East

Published: 19 September 2019
Reporter: Peter Lathan

The Royal Shakespeare Company will visit the North East with a special First Encounters with Shakespeare version of The Merchant of Venice for 7- to 13-year-olds in Newcastle and Middlesbrough. This is an edited version of the play, running at 90 minutes, and performed using Shakespeare's original language.

This touring show features eight professional actors and 22 young actors all under the age of 18 who will share the roles of Jessica and Lorenzo, with different combinations of young actors performing these two roles in each venue. Drawn from each of the English regions, the young actors are part of RSC Next Generation ACT: a group of people with a talent for acting who would not necessarily have the opportunity to develop it.

For the NE performances, Jessica and Lorenzo, the two characters caught up in a clash between family, money and culture, will be played by Paige Costello (aged 14, from Middlesbrough) and Jerminah Mangena (aged 15, from Ferryhill) alternating the role of Jessica and Adam McDonnell (aged 16, from Middlesbrough) and Kieron Wilson (aged 17, from Middlesbrough) alternating the role of Lorenzo.

“Set against the commercial backdrop of Venice, Shakespeare's play presents a world where business interests collide with personal ambitions and prejudices,” said Robin Belfield, who has directed and edited the production. “The Merchant of Venice asks some very challenging questions, especially for audiences today—questions about the way we live, work and behave with people of different faiths and cultures. At the heart of the play are two young people, Jessica and Lorenzo, about to make some huge choices that will affect their lives forever. It seemed fitting then that these characters be played by young people, and who better than our terrifically talented young company, Next Generation ACT.”

In Newcastle, performances will take place at Sacred Heart Catholic High School and at Northern Stage.

At Sacred Heart: Tuesday 15 October, 1:30 (schools' performance), 6:00 (public performance) and Wednesday 16 October, 1:15 (schools' performance), 6:00 (public performance).

At Northern Stage: all performances are open to the public: Thursday 17 October, 1:30; Friday 18 October, 10:30 and Saturday 19 October, 10:30 and 2:00.

In Middlesbrough the public performance takes place at Macmillan Academy in Stockton Road on 21 October at 7:00.