‘You’re looking at the person you love’: the married couple playing Romeo and Juliet

Ťhis is a tale of two households, both alike in dignity. In fair Hull we lay our scene. Two actors are born on the same street, a few years apart, and go to the same school yet never meet. One is Jordan Metcalfe, who becomes a child star in the BBC TV series The Queen’s Nose and studies at Guildhall. The other is Laura Elsworthy who doesn’t get into drama school but wins roles at Hull Truck and Manchester’s Royal Exchange. The stars align and the pair are cast together in Richard Bean’s play The Hypocrite for Hull’s year as UK City of Culture in 2017. It is love at first sight in the green room. With what poetry will Elsworthy woo Metcalfe?

“我说, ‘My nana knows you!’” giggles Elsworthy. Metcalfe smiles back at her. The pair, who married the following year, are starring together again this month as Romeo and Juliet, in an open-air dockside production presented by Hull Truck. They didn’t think twice when director Mark Babych suggested it. “Two months over the summer, doing Shakespeare with each other? 当然!” laughs Metcalfe.

Like many couples, they’ve hardly had any time apart because of the lockdowns of the last year. “It’s been crazy,” says Elsworthy. “The other day we were doing the balcony scene and I was just crying, looking at Jord, thinking about this year that’s just happened. We’ve been together 24/7. We should have a party that we didn’t get divorced!” Both confess that they wouldn’t have minded staying in digs to get a little time to themselves, but starring together in their home town was too good a chance to turn down.

Neither has done the play before. “I’ve auditioned for Juliet quite a few times,” says Elsworthy. She turned 30 this year and thought she’d missed her chance (mind you, 82-year-old Ian McKellen is currently playing Hamlet in Windsor). So if the balcony scene brings on tears, what is it like to perform the play’s tragic ending? “Pretty intense,” she admits. “You can’t not do it as Laura and Jordan. You’re looking at the person that you love.” Metcalfe says he hopes they’ll be “able to bring lots of heart” to the production. When you star alongside your partner, you get a certain amount of stage chemistry for free, suggests Elsworthy. “I wouldn’t say it’s for free,” deadpans Metcalfe. “I think we’ve worked quite hard!”

The pair are using their own accents for the characters. “I don’t think there’d ever be a production down south where you’d see two northern leads in a Shakespeare,” says Elsworthy. “Northerners play the small parts or the comedy parts.” Metcalfe says he’s normally cast as a clown or a weirdo but has often been a “posh boy” because after a few years of acting he “sort of stopped sounding like I was from Hull”. It’s something Elsworthy picked him up on when they started dating. She believes “Romeo” sounds much better spoken in a Hull accent.

Elsworthy’s CV includes a sci-fi version of Charlotte Brontë’s Villette as well as The Taming of the Shrew and As You Like It for the Royal Shakespeare Company. She was appearing as the playwright Shelagh Delaney in the RSC’s Miss Littlewood, about theatre director Joan Littlewood, when the pair got married in 2018. Metcalfe was doing a summer season at Shakespeare’s Globe. The RSC’s hair and makeup team helped Elsworthy get ready and the company did the music for their wedding party at Shakespeare’s New Place, the Stratford playwright’s former home. “The next night I was on stage at the RSC,” she remembers, “and Jordan was on stage at the Globe.”

The couple share a love for outdoor theatre. Metcalfe, who has also worked at Regent’s Park Open Air theatre, says “you’re more engaged with the audience, they aren’t plunged into darkness – it’s a joint experience”. The venue for Romeo and Juliet is right by the dock. “Underneath the floorboards of the stage you can see the water of the Humber,” says Elsworthy.

Hull Truck has played a huge role in their lives. It is where Elsworthy gave her first major stage performance, in Tom Wells’ monologue Spacewang. “Without that, I wouldn’t be here.” Metcalfe was a regular at the company’s former Spring Street venue and his parents would go there on Saturday nights, whether to see a play or not, because there was such a good atmosphere. People love going to the theatre in Hull, Elsworthy agrees. “It’s a proper night out.” And the effects of the City of Culture year can still be felt, they note. “There’s pride and a sense of ownership of the art and theatre that’s made here,” says Elsworthy. “It’s a bit magic.”