William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet the original play, originally scored – with rap and R&B

A Belgrade Theatre, Bristol Old Vic, and Hackney Empire co-production
World Premiere Words: Sophia A Jackson
Published: Monday 01 April 2024, 3:05pm

Romeo and Juliet - Belgrade Theatre 2025
Romeo and Juliet – Belgrade Theatre 2025


An innovative new version of Shakespeare’s ROMEO AND JULIET will have its world premiere at The Belgrade Theatre Coventry in 2025.

A co-production with Bristol Old Vic and Hackney Empire and directed by the Belgrade’s Creative Director, Corey Campbell, with set and costume design by Simon Kenny and in collaboration with local Midlands artists That’s A Rap (lyrics), and A Class (music), this will be the original play, originally scored – with rap and R&B: a Shakespearean lyrical love story – for people who love the music of the spoken word of every generation.

This is unmistakeably Shakespeare’s love story, unaltered in its original text. But it’s not just Shakespeare’s play. There is an important Plus One: rap.

Everything that makes Shakespeare’s play so well-loved is here. The rich, feuding families. The intense, forbidden passion. And the flash of violence that tears the young lovers apart, sending them spiralling towards tragedy.

The story shines with new, original elements of rap – as well as soul and R&B. Think every day English as well as the Elizabethan variety. And the poetry of rap rhythms as well as perfect pentameters.

Corey Campbell explains, “Romeo and Juliet is a great example of how our approach to co-creating with our communities can work in practice. We had already been running workshops in Coventry’s Extended Learning Centres for a while, when we started discussing the idea of creating a rap theatre production with a new local company called That’s a Rap. The company is all about challenging the way theatre incorporates rap as an artistic form, so we brought the two together and now the young people from the ELCs are co-creating songs for the show with it.

The production will follow and respect Shakespeare’s text, but the songs will add a layer of context, to ground it in a world that is recognisable for today’s young people. These young people have offered fresh insights into the play. Working with them, I’ve been struck by Romeo’s obsession with ending the violence that surrounds him. Growing up around rival gangs in Birmingham, I often saw fragile peace grow out of romantic relationships between members of clashing groups. Politics, and how it spills on to the streets, is also central: we’re casting Montague and Capulet as would-be political leaders, vying for favours from the Prince. This is where we’ll continue co-creating with audiences every night – they’ll be able to vote for which of the “dignified” households they’d like to see take charge.”

Nancy Medina, Artistic Director of the Bristol Old Vic, said, “I adored Corey’s vision for Romeo and Juliet and felt it would work brilliantly for Bristol audiences. Then I saw a workshop and was totally blown away by it. The poetry of the lyrics, the tenderness of the story-telling, the kick-ass soundtrack! It was also wonderful to see the reaction in the room from young people who are on the journey of development for the production – Corey’s commitment to tell a story that reflects their experiences really matters. This is definitely Shakespeare, retold in such a compelling way that it’ll thrill existing fans and inspire a whole new generation of Shakespeare lovers.”

With the ever-growing popularity of rap music in drama, That’s A Rap aim to provide a blueprint for Theatre, Film and TV practitioners to maximize the impact of its use. With their guidance and support and creative flare, dramatic rap will jump from novelty musical moments to integral parts of the narrative, taking the work from an innovative idea to a spectacular product. That’s A Rap are active in the community, delivering workshops in storytelling and self-expression to community organisations, schools and Alternative Education Provision.

In the work they create, they strive to amplify the voices of the young people they work with, ensuring they feel seen and represented within the work That’s A Rap make. With their commitment to the authentic presentation of rap music on stage, as well as the strong sense of social consciousness within the work, That’s A Rap create work of the highest quality and impact.