Challenge of a classic

ONE of Northern Ballet Theatre's most enduring productions, Romeo and Juliet, is back at the Lyceum next week with a new pair of young dancers, Hannah Bateman and Tobias Batley, in the title roles.

Bateman can personally attest to how much of a crowd-pleaser the ballet is, having vivid memories of seeing it as a girl.

"It is a special memory for me," she says. "My mum always took us to the theatre and ballet – the theatre was only five minutes' walk from where we lived in Woking – and I saw Romeo and Juliet. I remember it clearly and I still have the programme but I never dreamed that one day I would be in the lead role."

There are four couples alternating the roles of Shakespeare's tragic lovers on the current tour and very many others down the years since it was first performed in 1992, so how easy is it to make it your own?

"You have the general vocabulary of the piece and the choreography and that's a given but beyond that there's always leverage to bring something of yourself to it," explains Bateman.

"Compared to the other girls I am tall. I mean, I'm not tall, I'm 5ft 5ins, but I look different and then there's a lot of pure acting moments and you can have fun with those.

"The dynamic with your partner will be different too. It's nice because me and Toby have never danced together before and that made it special, which is an element of Romeo and Juliet."

Batley has danced other roles in the ballet before (and continues to do so) which in some ways has helped in assuming the lead, but in some ways not.

"In one week I can be playing Romeo or Benvolio or one of the friends and sometimes it's hard to remember who you are," he admits.

"There's a few of us who do different roles and there's one scene in particular when a letter from Juliet is delivered to Romeo and it gets stolen and passed around the group. That really is difficult to remember exactly where you are in it. In the interval beforehand we are always getting together and working out the moves to make sure we've got it right.

"It is such a privilege to be performing what is such an iconic role," he says.

"Hannah and I knew each other but we had never danced together. We had to form a partnership in rehearsal but it's been great because she is such a good dancer.

"We must be doing something right because they have put us together in A Midsummer Night's Dream as Lysander and Hermia."

Batley has previously danced the role of Demetrius in the ballet and found dancing Romeo a complete contrast.

"Demetrius is much more energetic and athletic and not a nice person, whereas Romeo is very romantic.

"The whole ballet is very different, Romeo and Juliet is more dreamy in tone."

Batley only began dancing around the age of 14 when he became fed up with having to trail around watching his sister dance and asked his mother if he could have a go.

In no time the boy from Chorley was attending the Hammond School in Chester, followed by the Royal Ballet School and dance had become a career for him.

And what about his sister? "She gave up, which is funny because she was the one they thought would succeed as a dancer," he says.

Not that she is likely to be losing much sleep over that, having found her vocation as an actress. She is Loui Batley who plays Sarah Barnes in Hollyoaks.

Romeo and Juliet is at the Lyceum from Tuesday to Saturday.

See the Listings Guide for what's on tonight