Words: Tim Heap
Like a shot of adrenaline, & Juliet burst onto London’s West End last November as a modern take on Shakespeare’s famous tale of star-crossed lovers.
Set to the pop hits of Swedish songwriter Max Martin, it reimagines Juliet’s tragic ending, taking her to Paris to write her own destiny, accompanied by her best friend May, played by stage star Arun Blair-Mangat.
For Attitude's February Travel issue - out now to download and to order globally - we headed down to the Shaftesbury Theatre, where & Juliet plays to audiences eight times a week, to shoot him in activewear and talk health, fitness and bringing a gender non-conforming character to the stage.
Arun Blair-Mangat, shot by Markus Bidaux exclusively for Attitude's February Travel issue, out now.
“May’s gender-identity storyline is front and centre in a way I’ve never seen in a mainstream musical before,” says Arun, whose role sees him deliver a show-stopping rendition of Britney’s I’m Not A Girl, Not Yet A Woman'.
“To allow May to be May without having to stick a label on it speaks volumes to me,” he adds.
Despite being queer himself, Arun says he wrestled with whether it was right to play gender non-conforming May - a role created by playwright David West Read and director Luke Sheppard, who Arun had worked with previously on the Off-West End version of Lin-Manuel Miranda's In The Heights in 2014.
Photography: Johan Persson
“I spoke to a lot of my non-binary and queer friends about whether it was right to take the role, and they think it’s incredible," Arun says.
“His trajectory has been pretty consistent but, as society has evolved, it’s kind of informed the role and made us braver with it.
Eight shows each week takes its toll on performers, but Arun knows the importance of seeing increased LGBTQ representation on stage, saying, “I feel proud to step on stage every night and share May’s journey. Hopefully, people are seeing versions of themselves within May."
Photography: Markus Bidaux
He adds: “This is the most that I’ve loved myself in a long time because I’m so satiated by this show.
“It allows me to embrace my otherness; it celebrates that.”
Read the full interview with & Juliet's Arun Blair-Mangat in Attitude's February Travel issue, out now.