Tybalt and Mercutio are sworn enemies… and secret lovers: Starcrossed at Wilton’s Music Hall

Starcrossed is a fresh twist on Shakespeare’s iconic Romeo and Juliet. Tybalt and Mercutio are sworn enemies… and secret lovers. Separated by family feuds but drawn together by a love and passion that cannot be ignored, or admitted. This is a witty and moving retelling of the starcrossed lovers bringing another love story at the heart of Romeo and Juliet into the open. Stephen Vowles meets the stars of Starcrossed – Connor Delves, Tommy Sim’aan and Gethin Alderman – for an in-depth chat about this remarkable play as it premieres at the iconic Wilton’s Music Hall.

Connor Delves (Mercutio) and Tommy Sim’aan (Tybalt). Photo: Mark Senior.

Connor Delves plays Mercutio

Hi Connor, you created the role of Mercutio in the New York production, what do you think are his best and worst qualities?

I did! A joyous time. Without a doubt his best qualities revolve around his carefree approach to life. Mercutio is daring, cheeky, and lives deeply in the moment. His ability to laugh and poke fun is also a quality I admire and love. Previously (before meeting Tybalt) I would say commitment issues potentially restricted his ability to find connection beyond lust. He holds a certain level of resentment towards family members that is also present in the play that I think, although complicated, perhaps is less desirable.

Is he fun to play?

Oh, he is a riot! I’m not sure I’ve enjoyed a role more than (this) Mercutio. He’s just so naughty and brilliant in a way that doesn’t diminish his intellect. He’s a witty, whip-smart man of the town. It’s a wild ride. Physically and emotionally actually. The Mercutio being created along with our brilliant director Philip Wilson and the team is unique and recognisable at the same time. I think my joy in playing him will be evident in the Mercutio audiences see at Wilton’s. I’d hope so anyway.

Are you excited to bring the play to London for its UK premiere?

It’s a true honour and a deeply gratifying moment. It feels right. The excitement mostly comes from seeing Rachel’s gorgeous play grow into the life it deserves. It’s such a brilliant text that yearns for an audience. Rachel’s world makes for a thrilling spectacle and I can’t quite believe we are finally here. Having done the play in basements in New York, then fringe festivals, reading rehearsal halls and in multiple states, it is one of the joys of my life (thus far) to bring the show to London.

You are an Australian living in New York, have you ever acted in the UK before?

I have… however (haha) I was oh so young. I travelled here with a youth theatre group when I was 15. We toured a devised piece called Batavia about a shipwreck off the Australian coast. I got to perform at Theatre Royal Bath (thrilling), as well as in Cornwall, Oxford, Exeter and London. It was a bizarre and wonderful time. I vividly remember seeing a production of Hamlet at the Minack theatre on the cliffs of England. The waves splashed over the title character during “To be or not to be”, on a freezing evening… one of the more visceral theatrical memories I have. No doubt he chose “to be” that night.

How excited are you to perform in the stunningly beautiful Wilton’s Music Hall?

Wilton’s is a truly remarkable space. With character, history and genuine theatrics in its structure and feeling, I couldn’t think of a more appropriate space for Starcrossed to land. It’s one of the few truly thrilling spaces to walk into that matches the play that will be on the stage. In 2022 that is increasingly rare and for that I’m so grateful. We really do feel in the audience’s lap (in the best way) and the connection we will hopefully establish with them is very much in part due to the remarkable space. I’m just so grateful it’s so right. I’m buying a lotto ticket.

We hear you play the mandolin in the production – did you have to learn it just for this role? 

I do! And yes, I’ve been learning the mandolin for this London production specifically (Eeek!) I say learning as it’s a continuous process and one that I strive to continue to get better at each day/rehearsal. I think it was maybe eight weeks ago that it was confirmed I would play the mandolin in the show and I said “OK sure”! Perhaps naively or perhaps Mercutio like it saying “OK f**k it!”. I have a tremendous amount of respect and admiration for instrumentalists, having previously only been a singer. Strumming away I now am though, and it adds so much to the show, having that texture. A big thanks to my teacher Matt Wong who has been incredibly patient and to the team for believing I can do it. Adding it to my special skills on my resume as we speak…

This show sounds more like racy Bridgerton than stuffy Shakespeare – would you agree?

 Oh wow yes, interesting comparison! It’s certainly a more intimate look at real life relationships and humans in a world that perhaps forbade it. It’s daring and sexy and piercing throughout. The elevation of the text is a delight as Rachel’s writing is so vivid and sparkling. It allows us a gateway into the world of these fascinating people. I think the Bridgerton comparison is true in terms of size and also relationship drama in a somewhat uncensored fashion. Our play is certainly not stuffy… if anything it breathes life and fresh air into characters we have known for years. It gives them their shot. I’m a big fan and admirer of Bridgerton, excellent work.

Mercutio sounds like a crazy, sexy, impulsive guy, would you agree with that assessment? 

Hmmm…. impulsive? Certainly, in the truest form. Crazy? No. I think his actions are valid, however they come from a place of throwing oneself at things fully. Crazy to some maybe, not to me.

And sexy? Well… I’ll leave that up to you to decide.

Have you created a back story for him in your mind?

Always. I think what’s brilliant about both Rachel’s piece and the character of Mercutio as we knew him previously, is that he lives absolutely in the moment. Rachel has sprinkled so much throughout the play that is incredibly helpful. So much humanity is brought to the role and that has helped me throughout the process.

Do you think people will be surprised by Rachel Garnet’s fresh new take on this classic story?

Absolutely. It is so brilliantly crafted that we often find ourselves wonderfully lost between the original text and Rachel’s. It’s so much more than a Queer spin on Shakespeare. It’s about how we as people live our lives and how much affects that. It’s surprising throughout (even with a prologue!)

We are going to be seeing a lot more of you in the UK, tell us about your short film, Who We Were that you wrote and co-star in. We hear it’s been accepted by a London short film festival?

Yes I hope so! I love working here! Who We Were was created during the pandemic when it all felt quite bleak. I was yearning for connection and touch in a way that drove me to write the short. I collaborated with some brilliant artists in director/actor (and more) Ryan Spahn and Julia Randall (daughter of Tony Randall, who also studied at Guildhall over here) with the goal of creating an intimate piece analysing the moment a young couple realise it may be over. Under full COVID protocols, with only the three of us on set, it was a special piece that we all felt lived in a complicated and delicate space. The response to the film has been so wonderful and more than we expected. Having previously being selected by festivals in LA, Austin, Moscow, New York and more, it was almost perfect timing to hear it had been selected in London, right as I arrived to begin rehearsals for Starcrossed. It is currently streaming on “Shorted” and on Vimeo/YouTube. Please do check it out. In a similar vain to Starcrossed, it speaks to the longing for connection and love.

How do you relax away from work?

I come from a professional sporting family and that is a central part of my life. Working out, competing, running, and being involved in Australian football, cricket and any sport I can get my hands on, is a big part of “relaxing”. I do love seeing theatre, as corny as it may sound I do like to see as much as I can, and I am actually able to relax. Aside from that I am absolutely a water baby that loves being in the water and sun… you can take the boy out of Australia but you can’t take Australia out the boy. Hoping for a steamy summer in London! And not just in the play!

What would be your dream stage and film role?

It hasn’t been created yet! I love being involved in new work. New plays, new works, new musicals. It’s the creative side that is most attractive to me. I won’t fling a stereotypical role at you and actually I’m more interested in stories that perhaps haven’t been told. I’m really interested in a film role that involves continuous shots. It perhaps brings the theatre to film in a way that demands we see all of the performance and that is thrilling. I’d say there’s more people and creatives I dream to work with, rather than a “role” I dream to work on. One that hasn’t been done yet, but inevitably will, and I would die happily if that was my last role, Michael Hutchence from INXS, in a biopic on the Australian rock legend’s life. What a man. What a band! Love.

Why should people come and see Starcrossed?

New life is breathed into these wonderful characters and time. Starcrossed is the bridge we have all wanted to walk between then and now. It’s relatable, shattering, hilarious and touching in a way no one expects. Come see it! And for these beautiful and talented humans; I’m so lucky to be working with them all. Dreams.

Connor Delves (Mercutio) and Tommy Sim’aan (Tybalt). Photo: Mark Senior.

Tommy Sim’aan plays Tybalt

Hi Tommy, you are a British-Iraqi-Belgian actor and speak three languages French, Spanish and Arabic. That must open up lots of acting opportunities?

Yeah, more often than not I get some really interesting stuff through. Obviously an audition doesn’t guarantee a job, but I do at least audition for a lot of interesting parts. There’s been a real change in the process recently, as productions can no longer send through untranslated scripts and ask you to translate for the tape – it makes for a lot less extra work as you can imagine. I had a few early on where I was having to translate three pages (and obviously learn them) before getting down to my actual audition tape.

What attracted you to Starcrossed?

I think it was a mix of style, content and character. Rachel Garnet’s writing manages to straddle old and modern with a lightness of touch that makes it easily understandable and effective, whilst never straying too far from the source text. Good writing is always attractive for an actor – it helps us learn lines faster! I think the world Rachel’s managed to create is one that both exists in the past and the present, and that relatability and clear communication is really exciting. The storyline was obviously a big draw, as we learn so little about Tybalt and Mercutio in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet; the chance to explore them as characters and explore a same-sex relationship in a context that doesn’t usually explicitly allow for it was extremely exciting. 

Tell us about Tybalt in this play? 

Tybalt’s a complicated guy, who has had to survive in a pretty desperate environment, and the way he’s learnt to do that is through violence, and by adopting the customs of others as his own. He is the cousin of Lady Capulet and has been taken into the Capulet household, and we learn more in the play about his parental relationships. All of this makes for a very repressed individual. He really struggles to enjoy himself, or allow himself to be happy – in any way, be it in following his heart or just having a drink and chilling out – but he does, bit by bit, learn to let himself go. He’s actually a pretty earnest and sincere person, and can, when the feeling strikes, be quite cheeky.

We know that Mercutio initially shocks Tybalt by planting a first surprise kiss. It seems to come from nowhere. But Tybalt is intrigued and appears the keenest to arrange follow-up liaisons. What is your take on him and this reaction?

As I said, he’s super repressed, but Mercutio opens a door for him when he kisses him, and Tybalt sees a little bit of light that he can’t help but head towards. He’s pretty terrified of what he’s feeling after the kiss, because it’s disrupting everything he’s put in place to keep himself safe. Literally in the sense that he could be put to death if he pursues something with Mercutio, and internally: his whole mechanism for dealing with the world – the person he’s persuaded himself he is – is changing and he can’t control this. So he has to follow it up, he can’t let this lie because his whole paradigm is shifting, and for a man who is used to feeling in control and powerful, he can’t bear this fear and helplessness. He is also really excited by the kiss and these follow-up feelings, but it takes him a minute to recognise that.

Do you think Tybalt has had feelings like this in the past or does it come like a thunderbolt from the blue?

I think he might’ve done you know. But he would never have allowed himself to accept or acknowledge them. He’s a pretty devout Catholic and has a lot of self-loathing, so I think it would have been easy in the past – with nothing tangible to equate these feelings to – to dismiss them as part of what he would tell himself were his ‘sinful ways’. He views any form of ‘carnal’ relationship as a pathway to falling, because of his experiences as a child (that are explored in the show).

Have you created a back story for him in your head?

Yeah definitely, though Rachel has given me a lot to work with in the play, so it’s been more a question of fleshing things out and coming to understand how the facts of his life have shaped him into the character we see.

Do you like him as a character?

I think, at least when you’re playing a part, you kind of have to either like or empathise/sympathise with your character. The moment you judge them is the moment you lose the ability to play them truthfully, because that judgement will be inherent in your performance. So maybe I’ll be able to answer this properly after the show, but at the moment, yeah – he’s my guy!

Have you ever appeared in a period drama before?

I’ve done a few Shakespeare plays, the highlights so far have been A Midsummer Night’s Dream on tour in Japan, and As You Like It at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. We did some Restoration stuff at drama school, which was mad.

Starcrossed sounds more like racy Bridgerton than stuffy Shakespeare – would you agree?

Yeah, there’s definitely some sauce in there. As I said in my answer earlier, Rachel’s writing manages to be modern whilst being anchored in the world of Shakespeare, and that’s super refreshing. We’re less explicit than Bridgerton, but the spice and tension is ever-present.

You are going to be seen in the new version of The Midwich Cuckoos, starring Keeley Hawes and Max Beesley on SKY next month. Was that a big production?

Yeah, it was a decent size production that – I wasn’t on set for long but there was a lot going on. I don’t want to give anything away, but I really enjoyed shooting!

How do you relax away from work?

Lots of ways, I’m a very active person, so I do a lot of yoga and sport/martial arts. Hanging out with friends and family is a big one for me too.

What would be your dream stage and film role?

Honestly, I have no idea – I think what I find exciting about my job is that I never know what’s going to come up next, and I love engaging with new things on every job. But if I get offered Wolverine tomorrow, I’m there!

Why should people come and see Starcrossed?

It has something for everyone. Rachel has written a story that manages to fuse the old and the new, whilst portraying something completely timeless and relatable. Equally, this is a gay love story, and a specific exploration of identity that we still don’t see that much of. I think depictions of men negotiating their socially imbibed ‘masculinity’ and trying to reconcile it with their sexuality are few and far between. We view our society as liberal, but as of today there’s still only one out gay professional footballer in the UK (shout out Jake Daniels), and he’s the first since John Fashanu in the 90’s (in the UK). There are still so many parts of our society where the idea of ‘manhood’, and fear of backlash and hate override the individual’s freedom to be themselves, and this play really explores and depicts that. 

Tommy, Connor and Gethin Alderman rehearse Starcrossed. Photo: Mark Senior.

Gethin Alderman is The Player

Hi Gethin, we hear you play every other role in the play including Romeo AND Juliet! – how does that work?

You have to make sure that the different characters are identifiable fairly quickly and easily to help the story so you start by studying clues in the text (who they are, age, where are they from, relationships, physical cues, etc) to start finding the differences in the characters. This helps you to start building a palette for each character: what is their usual rhythm, tempo, weight, relationship with space? You have to look at this both vocally and physically. You can then begin to combine this with elements of costume to make each person unique.

How many are you playing?

I play nine roles. The greatest challenge is making the younger characters (Romeo, Benvolio, Paris, Juliet, etc.) clear, as they could easily become quite similar. And with Juliet, you obviously don’t want my choices to distract from the main story and people to laugh for the wrong reasons.

The pandemic has highlighted how wonderful and vital understudies and alternates are in the theatre. You recently understudied Llywelyn, Pistol, the King of France and eight other roles, alongside Kit Harrington in Henry V at the Donmar Warehouse. How many did you actually get to play?

I played two roles (covering one actor) a couple of times in performance and a few others in rehearsal and tech due to cast illnesses. I also popped up a few times to help out in the movement sequences.

How is it possible to learn so many different roles in a production and not get them mixed up in your head?

It takes a lot of work. I develop “Info Cards” for each of the characters and detailed movement track sheets for each actor and character I cover. If the characters are clear to you, it becomes almost impossible to mix them. To begin, you start by learning each role separately. By the end of rehearsals, the other understudies and I were doing line runs of the entire show backstage jumping from role to role throughout – much like you will see on stage in Starcrossed.

Starcrossed sounds more like racy Bridgerton than stuffy Shakespeare – would you agree?

I think it’s a mistake to think that Shakespeare is stuffy. It’s full of violence, lust and passion – and this play builds on that.

We hear you are in the second season of The Great with Elle Fanning and Nicholas Hoult. What role are you playing? 

I play Jean-Pierre, Peter’s chef.

Do you prefer film or stage acting?

I enjoy the variety of moving between both. By doing both, you get to tell a wider range of stories and to learn and use an array of different skills. It’s also exciting to engage with your audience in distinct ways.

Tell us about your parallel comedy career.

I love making things (I trained and started out in devised theatre) and comedy is another way to do that. It gives you another outlet and another voice to discuss different topics with even more people. I also believe that the way stand-ups and clowns interact with an audience and the awareness that they have for an audience is a great lesson for all performers. My comedy shows are highly interactive with nowhere for the audience to hide – it very much isn’t sitting quietly in a dark auditorium.

How do you relax away from work?

I love cooking, cycling and watching the rugby. I also like to travel – I speak French and Spanish (as well as Welsh and English) so it’s great to get away and to switch into a different world and culture.

What would be your dream stage and film role?

The villain in a Bond film or Richard III on stage.

Why should people come and see Starcrossed?

Rachel, the  writer, has built on Shakespeare’s much-loved play and gives us a fresh look at some of our favourite characters. The play is quick-paced, exciting and moving.

Starcrossed by Rachel Garnet is at Wilton’s Music Hall, Graces Alley, London E1 8JB from Wednesday 1st June to Saturday 25th June. Box office: 020 7702 2789 or online at

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