AN exhaustive search for the North East’s favourite Shakespearean character, run by the Theatre Royal in partnership with The Journal, saw the ill-fated Mercutio come in ahead of Hamlet, Romeo, Juliet and all the rest.
Artists were then invited to apply for a commission to make a bronze sculpture of Mercutio to have permanent pride of place at the Theatre Royal.
The commission was funded by Ramy and Marilyn Zack, owners of the Biscuit Factory commercial art gallery in Newcastle, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year.
Lisa Delarny, who has a studio at High Spen, near Rowlands Gill, impressed the judges with her submission and her sculpture will be formally unveiled in the Theatre Royal’s grand circle bar today, Shakespeare’s birthday.
Expected to be in attendance is the actor Jonjo O’Neill, who played Mercutio for the Royal Shakespeare Company at the Theatre Royal last year.
The most important characters die in Romeo and Juliet but most of them last longer than Mercutio, Romeo’s witty and energetic friend, who is killed by Tybalt, Romeo’s enemy, in act three, scene one. Punning to the end, he utters his dying witticism: “Ask for me tomorrow and you shall find me a grave man.”
This is engraved on the sword on which Lisa Delarny’s wonderfully lithe and arresting figure stands.
“It’s that idea of him treading a fine line, walking on a knife edge, because he’s very provocative. His cheek gets him into trouble and that’s his undoing,” said Lisa, who was giving her creation a quick polish at the theatre on Friday.
The commission was a real challenge. Everyone has their own idea of what a Shakespearean character might look like and if you don’t like the actor playing him or her, it doesn’t matter much because another production with a different cast will be along in due course.
But the Theatre Royal sculpture should outlive us all. Arguably it was a risk as well as a challenge for all concerned.
Lisa, who was born in Hertfordshire in 1965, has lived and worked in the North East for some 20 years. A painter and a sculptor, she has done a wide range of work.
“I have done work for the theatre before, prop making. I’ve done stuff for Welsh National Opera and quite a lot of stuff for Dodgy Clutch.”
Among her creations for the Newcastle theatre company was a model of a Viz comic Fat Slag whose fate was to be burned aboard a bus full of Geordie characters to usher in the new millennium.
Look at the photograph on this page and you will see that the Viz favourite bore something of Mercutio’s mannerisms.
Lisa said her sculptures tend to be about gesture and body language. “In this case I wanted to have the whole body to be expressive rather than just the face.”
She has certainly succeeded. This Mercutio is a coiled spring, a lean, energetic figure full of youth and vitality.
There’s a mischievous quality, too, in the face behind the mask which the character holds in front of his head. To the viewer there’s a sidelong glance which is both challenging and appealing.
Mercutio and Romeo went masked to the Capulet ball where Romeo first set eyes on Juliet and fell in love.
As he wields the mask, Lisa’s bronze Mercutio points the fingers of one hand towards the ceiling.
“It’s a bit like a jester’s hat or a cockerel’s comb, because he is a bit like a rooster, or even a Rastafarian’s hair,” she said.
“Mercutio’s face is neither black nor white.”
Nor is it clear what period he’s in with his simple garb of tight leggings and shirt. Lisa said she had wanted him to be ambiguous, a figure with universal appeal.
She said she had expected that a character like Bottom would win the competition.
“But I like that it’s Mercutio. He was a bit of a Jack the Lad and this is supposed to be a party city.”
Lisa broke with her usual custom to make Mercutio.
“Normally when I make a sculpture it doesn’t start with a drawing. I just start making the sculpture straight away.”
This time, because she had to have things to show the selection panel, she made drawings and a maquette (model). Having got the commission, she then created a large model of Mercutio with wire, wood and clay which was then covered with the silicon rubber which would form a mould.
The final sculpture, which is hollow, was made at a foundry in Edinburgh and brought back to Tyneside by Lisa in her Renault Scenic, which must have been quite a sight.
If he stood up straight, Lisa reckoned, her Mercutio would stand 7ft tall.
It would hardly make him more dramatic.
The sculpture is possibly the best present a playwright, dead for nearly 400 years, could hope for.