Palm To Palm at Stage Two

Shakespeare Nation Project play brings together refugees and other groups for special production

What if, like Romeo in Shakespeare’s famous tragedy Romeo and Juliet, you are faced with a dilemma – “be gone and live, or stay and die”?  

Three Norfolk groups, including refugees and asylum seekers who have made their home in the county, are bringing their own life experiences of facing such a question to a very special drama production which has seen them working with professionals from the Royal Shakespeare Company.

The play they have created, called Palm To Palm, will be performed at Norwich Theatre Royal’s Stage Two on November 20.

The theatre has joined forces with the Royal Shakespeare Company in a landmark initiative called Shakespeare Nation. The renowned company aims to generate new audiences and lovers of theatre by reaching out to over 3,000 adults nationwide via co-productions, workshops with RSC actors and directors, subsidised tickets and theatre coach trips, engaging those who would not normally think theatre or Shakespeare was for them.

Norwich Theatre Royal is one of just six selected partner theatres across the UK working with the RSC on the project, a four-year long programme funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation. It follows on from the RSC’s critically-acclaimed production of Romeo and Juliet which visited Norwich in February this year and featured young school students from Norfolk on stage alongside professional actors.

Palm To Palm is the culmination of the first year of the Shakespeare Nation project in Norwich and has been created by three local groups from the city – Evolve  (Mancroft Advice Project) a monthly group for 11-25-year-olds who are transgender, intersex, genderqueer and gender-questioning young people; New Routes which works at grassroots level in Norwich with refugees, asylum seekers and isolated migrants from over 40 countries speaking 25-plus different languages, and promotes cross-cultural integration and community awareness; and University of East Anglia students and staff.

The groups all had little or no previous experience of Shakespeare and started off in April exploring their own links with the themes within Romeo and Juliet and imagining a journey from somewhere very different and arriving in a provincial city, in a world filled with new colours, new freedoms, new loves – a melting pot of cultures and gender. 

Erica Whyman, Deputy Artistic Director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, said: “Not everyone thinks Shakespeare’s plays are going to be for them, but our experience has been that if you can excite someone about Shakespeare and get them speaking his words and making sense of his ideas they often feel that, as a result, they can do anything.

“The plays express feelings we all have, they tell stories about the universal experiences of life – love, death, ambition, excitement, disagreement, hope – so they can make us feel connected to one another.  And his wonderful words are part of all of our history, they help us explain ourselves, maybe especially at times of change.”

New Routes cast member Millad Byte, who came to the UK from Iran and has settled in Norwich, said: “Working with a professional team is enjoyable for me. During this short time I have gained many experiences. After few years away from theatre, I came back again and I have a better mental state now so hope I can continue this path.”

Palm To Palm, which is directed by Miche Montague, is at Stage Two, Norwich Theatre Royal, on November 20, 7.30pm. To book call 01603 630000 or visit ntr.org.uk/ATaleOfManyCities

Leading up to the performance, the theatre has also been running an ongoing programme of related activities called A Tale of Many Cities, which includes crafts, discussion, a photography exhibition and a music project called A Song For Juliet. More details are available at ntr.org.uk/ATaleOfManyCities.

For more information on Palm to Palm, visit theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk.