YOU can sense the excitement that Shalisha James-Davis has for playing one of the iconic roles in theatre.

Her eyes shine as she describes her approach to portraying Juliet in one of Shakespeare’s most-loved plays.

Romeo and Juliet is currently at Manchester’s Royal Exchange and although the text is as written some 400 years ago, the setting and feel of the production is very much of today.

Lancashire Telegraph: Conor Glean as Romeo and Shalisha James-Davis, Juliet
                                                             (Picture: Johan Persson)

“It’s set in Manchester; there’s a real Mancunian feel to it,” said Shalisha, who may be familiar to many people through her role as Paige Allcott in the BBC 1 drama, Casualty. “It’s very vibrant, very loud and very relevant.”

You suspect that most people will know the basic storyline; two young people fall in love even though that love is ultimately doomed.

“It is an honour to be able to retell this story,” said Shalisha. “It’s a play that’s been studied and studied; it’s been performed over and over again but that in itself shows how important a play it is.

“When I was asked to be involved I wanted to know immediately why we were telling it again and why I wanted to be part of telling that story again.

“But it was simple. It’s so multi-faceted, it’s so powerful and so complex.”

She has a clear vision of how Juliet should be perceived.

“I really think it should be called Juliet and Romeo,” she said. “Juliet is the one who ignites the storyline; she’s the one who very much drives the play.

Lancashire Telegraph: Shalisha James-Davis as Juliet 
(Picture: Johan Persson)

“She’s actually very much a character for today and one of the reasons that although it’s a story that is centuries old we really do need to keep on telling it because we’ve still not learned the lessons from it.

“Young people today are facing the same issue as Romeo and Juliet. They are falling in love with people from different cultures, communities and backgrounds which in turn leads them to have big discussions and these internal debates as to whether they should follow their head or their heart.”

To many people Shakespeare can be a real challenge - something Shalisha is hoping to help overcome.

“I remember reading Romeo and Juliet in school and not understanding what was going on,” she said. “I understand why people might be put off but it’s our job as actors to guide you through it.

“If an audience member leaves not understanding it that is on us. Having said that we’re not going to spoon feed you. We need you to come with us.

“What I advise young people coming to see Shakespeare performed for the first time who quite rightly might feel a bit intimidated by it is to pick one character and try and follow their journey throughout the play.

“At least you remember one storyline and then can fill the other bits in around it. If you try to understand it all at once, it can be overwhelming.”

Shalisha, you suspect, would make an excellent English teacher guiding students through the complexity of Shakespeare.

“I love reading Shakespeare,” she said. “Actually I’ m reading King Lear at the moment.”

You would think that Romeo and Juliet would be enough for anyone, but not for her.

Lancashire Telegraph: Shalisha James-Davis as Juliet (Picture: Johan Persson)

“When I’m involved in one role I do like to ready another play,” she said. “It helps take you into that other realm of Shakespeare’s language which even now I do find intimidating at times. In this play there are some lines which I have really had to think about. If you don’t really know what you are saying or why you are saying it then audiences will soon spot that.”

This is the first time that Shalisha has performed at the Royal Exchange.

“I hadn’t even seen a production here,” she said. “When I came to the first rehearsal I got a tour around and it was actually quite emotional.

“It feels very working class and I really like that and it feels really special to be doing this version of Romeo and Juliet here.”

Having had success on both stage and screen, it is interesting to get Shalisha’s take on how she views her career.

“All my favourite actors are on the stage one minute then on screen the next and that’s the way I’d like my career to go,” she said.

“I just see each job as telling another story and with Romeo and Juliet, it just happens to be on stage.

“It’s certainly a big character shift from Dr Paige Allcott,” she laughed. “But every job is different and I do feel very fortunate that I can blend from screen to stage.

“But the stage is my first love. I want to tell stories and I love being in a space with audience. We are all going to get lost in the story for two and a half hours; we silently make that promise to each other every time we gather in that space.”

Romeo and Juliet is one of Shakespeare’s tragedies so should audience be prepared to leave the theatre depressed?

“Oh I really hope not,” said Shalisha. “Look we know what ultimately happens to Romeo and Juliet and it is easy to dwell on dark themes.

“But this production also shines a light on hope. We need everyone to believe in this love the couple have. We want people to root for them. You can’t just see Romeo and Juliet as little people getting lost in their own infatuation.

“It’s our job to make the audience fall in love with these characters otherwise they won’t care what happens to them.”

Romeo and Juliet is at the Royal Exchange, Manchester, until Saturday, November 18. Details from