THE Museum Gardens play host to an all-male Romeo & Juliet from Wednesday to Friday when the Lord Chamberlain's Men visit York for the first time.
From May to September, the company is touring Britain with an open-air production of Shakespeare's teenage tragic romance, directed by the Royal Shakespeare Company's award-winning director Lucy Pitman-Wallace, who cut her teeth at York Theatre Royal.
Mark Puddle, the Lord Chamberlain's Men's founder and creative director, believes the show will be unique. "We've been doing a lot of research, and we're almost certain this is the first professional all-male production of the original text in over 400 years, " he says. "The traditional cast bring the show to life in the way Shakespeare himself first envisioned the play. It's something very special indeed."
No wonder Lucy is delighted to be at the helm once more for her third collaboration with the company.
"Romeo & Juliet is the ultimate Shakespearean experience, " she says. "It's got everything: comedy, passion, betrayal, heroism, tragedy - combine that with the beautiful venues we visit and you couldn't ask for anything more from a trip to the theatre."
She is pleased too to return to York. "When I was at the Theatre Royal, I worked with Damian artistic director Damian Cruden on A Midsummer Night's Dream, and I later spoke to him about the possibility of bringing the Lord Chamberlain's Men to York, and I also told Mark Puddle that he had to bring the company here, " says Lucy, who directed the company's productions of Macbeth in 2005 and A Midsummer Night's Dream last summer.
Founded in 2004, The Lord Chamberlain's Men is the modern incarnation of Shakespeare's original theatre company of the same name.
"We have an all-male cast and a largely female creative team, apart from Mark. This year, for example, Zoe Waterman is my assistant director; Kerry Bradley is the designer; Kate Waters did the fight choreography - she's one of the few female fight choreographers around - and the dance choreography is by Sue Leston, " says Lucy.
The roots of the company lie in Shakespeare taking a company of five actors on the road when the plague struck London, knocking on the doors of the gentry he knew to do performances.
"All his plays were performed by all-male casts as it was illegal for women to be on stage, so the part of Juliet would have been written for an adolescent boy aged 14 or 15, whereas our modern company of the Lord Chamberlain's Men has men who are usually in their early 20s, " says Lucy.
"Having an all-male company gives the opportunity to see Shakespeare's plays as they would have been staged in his lifetime and that makes an interesting experience. Romeo & Juliet was written without a lot of contact on stage between Romeo and Juliet, although modern versions, like Baz Luhrmann's film, have plenty!"
The role of Juliet is played by 25-year-old David Eaton.
"This is my first year with the company. The phonecall came from Mark Puddle, who I knew from previous work, and he said 'would you be interested in playing Juliet?'. I thought, 'how can I turn this down? It's on all summer and when will you get the chance to do something like this again?'. So I readily auditioned, " he says.
"I do think it's brave to do it this way. It stands out as two things; first it takes the play back to the original era and then it also says much about what modern audiences can accept. It just seems to be accepted, acknowledged and then left aside, as there is a story to be told and that is what comes first."
David is a young-looking 25. "I hope that the vulnerability of Juliet's age comes across in my performance, as it was a whirlwind romance with Romeo that went horrendously wrong, " he says.
"To play Juliet, I raise the pitch of my voice slightly higher, but we talked a great deal about how far you can go without it appearing to be a man in drag, so instead you are just aware that it's a boy in a dress playing a young girl. No make-up, no wig."
This is his first female role. "It's been a challenge in itself. All you can do is rest on the text and tell the story, otherwise you become sidetracked, " David says.
"It's been incredibly interesting!"
The Lord Chamberlain's Men present Romeo & Juliet, Museum Gardens, York, August 29 to 31, 7.30pm. Tickets: £14.50, children £7.50, on 01904 623568.