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Yes, yes, a thousand times yes when it’s as good as this. Directed by Hal Chambers Bristol Old Vic Theatre School fizzing adaptation of loves young dream is exactly what the One Direction audience - at whom this production is aimed - needs to get it’s teeth into.
The premise is a smart one: Emily’s parents have split and she has moved in with her dad. Her new bedroom has a platform bed. (You don’t need an A* in English to guess what’s going to happen there.) When she discovers a dusty copy of Romeo and Juliet among the fairytales, the cast emerges from cardboard boxes and the story comes to life in front of her eyes.
The Montagues and Capulets are demarcated by Adam Ant-style face paint. With a few judicious cuts, the story zips along, with the terrifyingly talented cast occasionally bursting in to song to fill expositional gaps. Toby Hulse’s adaptation is a genius mix of Shakespeare’s verse, Emily’s bossy interjections and the lightest sprinkling of youth-speak. Juliet (Bethan Nash) is a mercurial teenage lassie, humphing in her bed, playing air guitar with a sweeping brush, cuddling her teddy- yet quite overwhelmed by her own feelings.
Romeo (Callum McIntyre) is a perfect blend of mush and strut. Tybalt, with a nod to Zoolander, is enamoured by his own fine features. The nurse is a dude in a head scarf. Why not? Everything about this production is a delight. The costumes are of the moment, yet with lighthearted nods to the Shakespearean period. The rambunctious delivery and use of music has something of the National Theatre of Scotland’s wonderful Prudencia Hart. Best of all, this Romeo and Juliet reminds the audience of all ages that OMG. Shakespeare. Is. Awesome.
Any company staging Romeo and Juliet for younger audiences has two hurdles to overcome: make it clear enough for children to understand, yet fresh and interesting enough for the adult sitting next to them, who knows the story inside out.
This energetic production from Bristol Old Vic Theatre School and New Mutiny Theatre Company clears both with ease. It also manages to make the audience laugh out loud then reduce them to tears in the space of an hour.
Admittedly, they’ve got a great story to play with, and despite culling a few major characters, they stay pretty faithful to Shakespeare’s original. The frame they place around it, however, is a stroke of genius.
Feeling the sting of her parent’s recent divorce, young girl Emily tries to settle into her new bedroom at dad’s house. Looking for love in every book she picks up, she happens upon Romeo and Juliet, and assumes a fairytale happy ending is on the cards. The six performers who suddenly appear to act out the play have other ideas, of course.
Shifting between modern dialect and Shakespearean prose, Emily forms the perfect bridge between the audience and the Montague and Capulet clans. Clarity is paramount, the pacing is spot on, and the laughs come thick and fast – until the death tally starts rising, then it’s time to reach for your tissues.
Whether they’re singing, playing instruments or acting with a comic timing and emotional passion that belies their age, this talented cast holds you in its sway throughout.
Romeo and Juliet may be in the Children’s section – and it’s certainly a great introduction to Shakespeare – but this superb production is every bit as entertaining for adults as it is for kids.
Romeo and Juliet is perhaps the most youth-filled of all Shakespeare’s plays, with the star-crossed teen lovers and their idealistic yet doomed belief than young love can conquer years of family rivalry.
And it is because of this focus on the young that this production – which has Juliet air-guitaring and references to Sleeping Beauty and Harry Potter – makes a bizarre kind of sense.
As Emily unpacks her boxes of toys after moving house, she uncovers a copy of Romeo and Juliet and, believing it to be the quintessential ‘happily ever after’, she dives greedily into the tale. Up pop the characters from the play, with Emily playing a key role in prompting the plot taking up the role of advisor, peace maker and cupid - although she is only listened to when she ‘talks in Shakespeare’. This is Romeo and Juliet from the mind of a romance obsessed seven year old.
It is silly and fun, displaying a mockery for and yet a love of Shakespeare. The enthusiasm and physicality of the actors make it easy to follow the action of the text which is only helped by the amusing asides. The performance is incredibly playful which, initially, does not hint at the darker side of the drama: fight scenes make use of abandoned paint rollers and Emily’s bunkbed becomes Juliet’s balcony
And if one wasn’t certain about the slightly irreverent approach to Shakespeare, the outfits are enough to convince. The costumes are all the height of dressing-up box glamour (Romeo has a touch of the Matt Smiths to his look), a riotous mixture of hoodies layered with blazers, tulle petticoats, aprons and paisley scarves all topped off with a healthy amount of face paint. Juliet has her hair in bunches. This is that sort of show.
Yet it is clever too. The face paint is used to great, and often subtle, effect throughout the play: after killing Tybalt, Romeo scrubs his hands against his red streaked face, his palms coming away looking like they’ve been stained with blood. As products of Emily’s imagination, Romeo and Juliet act just like children themselves, reminding us that this greatest love story of all time is about two teenagers who would, in all likelihood, have spent hours in such self-indulgent goodbyes. What is the balcony scene other than one long ‘you hang up’, ‘no you hang up’?
By using Emily as a focal point, even those familiar with the tale of Romeo and Juliet recapture something of that innocent belief that this time things will turn out ok for the couple; I saw one child wiping away her mother’s tears during the closing moments of the play.
This would be ideal for any who have children who are too mature for a lot of the offerings in the children’s section but still are a bit young to take to take to full on Shakespeare. Although it works as an excellent introduction to Shakespeare, it is also a wonderful way to recapture the feelings one has on encountering the play for the first time. A very different and childish retelling of the story but one that is absolutely worthy of standing amongst Shakespeare adaptations.
If you want to introduce Shakespeare to your family at a young age, then this child-friendly adaptation of his famous star-crossed lovers is a good place to start.
Set entirely within a child’s bedroom, this edited take manages to strike a good balance between child-friendly accessibility and remaining faithful to Shakespeare’s poetic language. Combining action, humour and music, this production is fun, energetic and entertaining; the cast are enthusiastic and talented, both musically and dramatically.
A slightly abrupt and incomplete ending is not enough to spoil things, and whilst adults may find everything a bit silly at times, children will be utterly enchanted.
This is a sparkling, dynamic, and wonderfully performed adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet for children, which balances appeal and accessibility with a deeply felt appreciation of the play’s more difficult themes.
The piece is performed by an ensemble of seven young actors from Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, who work hard to open up the text to their young audience. As soon as they enter the circus-tent style space in which the play is performed, children are greeted and entertained by Emily, a young girl who has just moved house after the separation of her parents. In the process of unpacking, Emily discovers a copy of Romeo and Juliet, and our play unfolds as she reads her way through the text, the characters coming to life in her bedroom and inviting her to join their world. The first part is packed full of joyous energy and comedy, and there’s a good deal of audience interaction. The cast have a lovely childlike freedom to their physicality, and the performance space, which has actors and audience in close proximity, enhances the openness between them. The simple set and props are the contents of a typical modern child’s bedroom (including a bunk-bed and Harry Potter). The script is a mix of original Shakespearean and modern language, which only very occasionally sounds incongruous – in general the melding enables the company to communicate the story clearly to their audience while retaining the most beautiful of Shakespeare’s language.
There’s no getting away from the tragic ending of the bard’s play, and the challenging themes which run through it, all of which make it a tough choice to present to a very young audience – quite apart from the fact that most children between the ages of 5 and 12 are likely to consider a love story unappealing. Of course all of this also contributes to making Romeo and Juliet the exhilarating, heart-rending text that it is, and the energetic young ensemble embrace the difficulties to produce a piece full of humour, drama, joie de vivre and honest emotion. All of the most important of the original play’s themes are expertly communicated here: the reckless spontaneity of youth, the pointlessness of gang violence, and the awful shock of life needlessly wasted.
The cast (Bethan Nash, Callum McIntyre, Dominic Creasey, Toby Webster, Millie Corser, Sean Mulkerrin, and Patrick Tolan) are all outstanding, managing the shift from comedy to tragedy with ease, and achieving a real rapport with their young audience. They also perform all the live music which is such a strong feature of this piece. Guitar, cello, saxophone, recorder, drum, and the cast’s voices, are used with great effect to enhance the mood of joyous party scenes, and the tense stand-off between Mercutio and Tybalt in the Italian heat.
I attended with a slightly reluctant ten year old boy, but he was won over sufficiently to concede that while it still wasn’t his kind of thing, he had enjoyed it and thought it was a good play. Other audience members, of all ages, appeared captivated throughout, and left full of enthusiasm for the performers and play.
This is a fantastic theatre experience for children and adults alike, and highly recommended.