IN the words of artistic director Alexander Wright, since the Flanagan Collective was born in 2010, the York company has been guilty, like many others, of "working with too many men".

So, in an attempt to redress the balance, he has fashioned an all-female Romeo & Juliet (well, all female except for a male Paris but still played by a female, Yoshika Colwell, in a fawn overcoat).

In Shakespeare's day, all roles were played by men or boys, such as the Lord Chamberlain's Men, so Wright now flips that convention on its his head, just as the girls-aloud-and-kicking production of Titus Adronicus was presented by the all-female Smooth Faced Gentlemen at York Theatre Royal's TakeOver Festival in October 2013.

If your reaction to this distaff casting is a flippant dismissal, a scornful "It should be called Romily & Juliet", or a South Park giggle at the prospect of girl-on-girl action, then grow a pair, frankly. Curiosity alone makes the Wright stuff on stage at St Olave's Church an interesting prospect.

The Flanagan Collective's initial idea was to create a Romeo & Juliet to play in non-traditional "social and sacred places". The reality is the company fuses the two, transforming the Marygate church into a raucous rave with pounding beats and popping balloons, where the young of Verona have discarded shoes and hung clothes on pew ends and are partying as if E is the only letter in the alphabet. Ecstasy for some, agony for others, if you don't like loud, intrusive noise.

"We wanted to give the reverence of a space over to the sheer energy of youthful, reckless love," reasoned Wright. This meeting of the reverent and the irreverent would have best suited a younger audience, but maybe an £18 ticket (£14 for under 16s) is prohibitive on the evidence of press night.

Aptly for a church, Wright's production turns out to be something of a curate's egg, as this prolific writer and producer picks up the director's reins for the first time in a while. It has his best tropes from his Belt Up Theatre days and past Flanagan shows, with wonderful a cappella and incidental music by composers Jim Harborne and Edward Wren (after that exhausting opening party overture of noise); visual flair to capture the euphoria of first love; and constant use of movement and integration with the audience.

You quickly settle to "she" replacing "he" and Romeo (Emma Ballantine) and Juliet (Amie Burns Walker) both being called wife, while Lady Capulet (Sarah Davies) taking over Lord Capulet's lines works well too, but fight scenes need better choreography.

For all the use of pews and aisles, and the pulpit for Juliet's balcony, the diction has to fight with church acoustics that distort louder voices and muffle quieter ones. Holly Beasley-Garrigan, from Fine Chisel Theatre, rises the best to this challenge in her outstanding Mercutio and Friar Lawrence; so too does Hannah Davies as the Nurse, while a megaphone helps her Prince.

There could be more lighting, although candles and incense for the second half are a heady combination, and the near darkness for the tragic finale is poignant. So too is the fade to silence, and no bows at the end, as reverence settles on St Olave's once more.


Details for: Romeo & Juliet, The Flanagan Collective/York Theatre Royal, York International Shakespeare Festival, St Olave's Church, Marygate, York, until May 23, excluding Sunday, 7.30pm plus 2.30pm, Saturday. Box office: 01904 623568 or at