Liverpool audiences will be more accustomed to seeing Crosby actress Rachael Rae making them laugh rather than cry. With performances that have been a highlight of the Royal Court’s Christmas shows as well as appearances on BBC sitcoms, up to now, comedy has been her forte. Coming up this week is the chance to see her as you never have before, taking on one of Shakespeare’s most iconic female roles in Romeo & Juliet at St George’s Hall. It’s the main event of the Liverpool Shakespeare Festival, which returns after a year’s hiatus.
LIPA graduate Rae had been hand-picked for the production, which was originally supposed to go ahead in 2010; however, the festival suffered funding woes and did not take place. For 2011, director Max Rubin has created a Shakespearean world of Victorian style with all the complications of modern life. There is a palpable excitement about the production from the cast. “It’s been amazing so far, truly challenging without a doubt,” says Rae. “I’m learning a lot and I’ve kind of got to grips with the character and telling her story. But I’m just loving it. It’s terrifying and exciting at the same time.”
The actress had worked with Rubin before – he had been her former tutor at LIPA, where she studied performing arts until 2007. “It feels like he probably picked me because I’m a bit tomboyish, which is not what you’d usually expect but is a fresh look. We’re not trying to make any bold new statement about the play, but just come at it fresh. It’s not just a tragedy, but a celebrating of love as well. It’s a beautiful mix of old Victorian Liverpool and modern day. It shows this story can happen in any country, any city, in anyone’s lives.“
It’s a change of scene for Rae, who has become known for her roles in the Royal Court Christmas plays of writer Fred Lawless. She appeared in Merry Ding Dong in 2009, Scouse Pacific last year (pictured below with co-star Stephen Fletcher), and will return for this year’s Little Scouse on the Prairie. She has had roles in comedies Lunch Monkeys and Misfits, and is about to start work on another comedy pilot for the BBC.
For now, she is having to get to grips with a complex character bursting with emotion. “Juliet’s tricky,” she laughs. “Even until the last performance I imagine I’ll be discovering more about her. She’s quite incredible. I read a beautiful article about her, that said of all the women characters in Shakespeare’s work Juliet stands alone as a representation of love itself. She goes through every extreme you can possibly experience in love, from that naïve uncertainty in the beginning to in the end taking her life because she loved too much.”
And if that sounds like a lot to pull off, it is – but it should make for an enthralling performance. “It is draining and when you’re finished you’ve got to find your own personal way of winding down,” Rae says. “But those two hours when you’re in it… it’s definitely hard work but it is exhilarating as well.”
Romeo & Juliet runs from Thursday (August 25) until September 11. Tickets start from £10. Tickets are available from the Echo Arena Box office. Call them on 0844 800 0400 or book online at https://www.ticketing.accliverpool.com/.