ONE Mercutio came face to face with another yesterday as a sculpture of the Shakespearean character was unveiled on Shakespeare’s birthday.
Doing the honours at Newcastle Theatre Royal was actor Jonjo O’Neill whose performance as Mercutio for the Royal Shakespeare Company helped to put the character from Romeo and Juliet on the plinth.
As he pulled off the cover, the actor – a rising Shakespearean star who has just opened in Stratford as Richard III – joked: “I think we look quite similar.”
Actually, the bronze sculpture by North East artist Lisa Delarny is quite an abstract representation of the character, who will mean many things to many people. Jonjo, who comes from Northern Ireland, said: “It’s a wonderful, beautiful piece of work. I’m so proud that he’s on a plinth and not Hamlet.”
The Prince of Denmark, beaten into second place in the competition to find the region’s favourite Shakespeare character, is represented in sculptural form all over the world but Mercutio less so.
“Mercutio is the most essential of Shakespearean characters,” suggested Jonjo O’Neill.
“He’s all spirit, he’s youth personified, balanced on the edge of sanity as we all are in this world – and so funny, so ballsy, so sexy and unafraid.
“Newcastle should be so proud that they have this most exciting, most Shakespearean of characters.”
The competition to find the North East’s favourite Shakespeare character was initiated by the Theatre Royal to mark its 175th anniversary.
The commission was funded by Ramy and Marilyn Zack who own the Biscuit Factory art gallery in Newcastle which is marking its 10th anniversary this year.
At yesterday’s ceremony Ramy Zack said: “We have been regular attenders here for many years. I remember my first performance here which was King Lear at the age of 12.”
He said he was surprised by the victory of Mercutio in the poll, which was supported by The Journal, because Romeo and Juliet, while full of wonderful quotations, was essentially “the story of a vendetta between two unedifying bands of hooray henrys”.
He reckoned it must have had a lot to do with Jonjo’s performance for the RSC which “attracted a great deal of bobby-soxer (schoolgirl) support”.
Mr Zack announced the creation of a Biscuit Factory Foundation to promote the arts in the North East.
James Ramsbotham, chief executive of the North East Chamber of Commerce, said the strength of public support for the Shakespeare competition had been very telling.
He said the region was holding up well in the recession because of a thriving manufacturing sector but also because the performing arts were doing well.
“This project was wonderful,” he enthused.
The sculpture of Mercutio will stand permanently in the bar area of the Theatre Royal’s grand circle.