TAKE a classic Shakespeare tragedy, add a talented young cast, give it a contemporary twist and set it against the historic backdrop of Hereford Cathedral’s nave and you have the recipe for a strikingly different and hugely memorable production.

Hereford Sixth Form College’s Upstage Production Company’s Romeo and Juliet certainly had all the right ingredients, as well as some unusual ones, among them a change of gender for Friar Lawrence, Mercutio and Balthazar, to bring one of Shakespeare’s best-loved works movingly to life.

The central performances were strong, with Hal Murray’s Romeo and (on Tuesday night) Meg Lewis’s Juliet beautifully played to bring genuine conviction and credibility to the young couple’s headlong coup de foudre of a love affair.

The transformation of Mercutio into Mercutia worked well, with Ruby Kwong giving Romeo’s re-named friend a definite air of the ladette, the perfect interpretation of a character typified by his refusal to take life over-seriously. Completing the trio of friends who gatecrash the Capulets’ party and set events in train is Benvolio, a well-judged performance from Peter Bindloss that perfectly captured Benvolio’s role as the voice of reason.

Solid support came from the rest of an enthusiastic cast, with the opening fight scene between the servants of the two families professionally executed and strikingly realistic, as was Romeo’s ill-fated run-in with Tybalt – the punches may have been pulled but they looked and sounded all too real. All credit to fight director Mal Smith and a high level of commitment from the actors.

The recruitment of specialists, not only in fight skills, but in voice coaching, costume and movement, paid off as every member of the cast clearly committed themselves to ensuring that this was a production that lived up to the magnificence of its setting and the lessons they'd learned. The minimum of props, the slightest of set changes and great direction by Teja Boocock and Colin Thompson allowed the beautiful words and the impressive performances to shine.

Romeo and Juliet runs until Friday, November 29, in the nave of Hereford Cathedral. 7.30pm. Tickets available from The Outback, Cathedral shop and college reception.