Shakespeare play teenagers will understand and relate to.
Of all the interpretations of William Shakespeare’s back catalogue, it’s Verona’s star-crossed lovers who keep on attracting the modern touch. And Michael Wicherek’s production at the Corn Exchange was thoroughly modern indeed.
The timeless themes of teenage angst and enduring love were given the London gangland treatment: cousin Tybalt was reborn as T-Man, traditional garb was swapped for trackie bottoms and string vests, and the Capulet-Montague feud was fuelled by racial undertones.
The set – a huge heart-shaped metal structure – delivered the iconic balcony scene with the distinct feeling of a school playground (Juliet was just 13, after all). The whole thing was accompanied by a booming set from DJ Virgil Howe.
It was astonishingly fast-paced, with the five-act play boiled down to just 70 minutes. The original 22-strong cast was replaced by just three players: Romeo, Juliet and an additional narrator who had a stab at just about anyone else who matters.
Shakespearean purists and theatre buffs be warned, this one obviously isn’t for you. But much like Baz Luhrmann’s gun-toting blockbuster, this production’s modern language and look lets Shakespeare’s work speak to a younger crowd – even if it was more of a shout than a swooning sonnet.
It’s food for thought to ponder just what old Bill would make of this swaggering, often slapstick approach to his work. And while at times it feels a little more EastEnders than Elizabethan, this is a Shakespeare play teenagers will understand and, most importantly, relate to.
The Argus, Alice Johnson, 14 March 2014