9 August 2011
The National Theatre
Romeo and Juliet is a story about horny teenagers who make stupid decisions and the adults around them who don't realise that teenagers will make stupid decisions. It's an awesome story that would earn an "it's complicated" as a Facebook relationship status.
One of the many wonderful things about Bell Shakespeare is that they bring these glorious and complex stories to as many people as possible. Their schools program continues to excite young Bard fans and their web site is filled with resources, links and opportunities for teachers to create as much enthusiasm and love for Shakespeare as teens have for writers like JK Rowling and John Marsden. But, unlike novels, plays are just words if they're not performed and Bell's young school troupe are show what all those words mean.
Directed by Damien Ryan, this abridged version is performed by a delightful cast of eight who bring fun, enthusiasm and understanding to the text, but the cutting decisions seem to have been based on retaining well-known scenes and showing language, rather than focusing on story and creating teenagers that teenagers care about.
The cutting is vital for time (and usually does no harm), but by losing some of the final scenes when characters could make choices that would make everything work out, the momentum and the hope is lost, which leaves the ending flat. R&J should always end in silence or blubbing, even when we know the outcome.
I saw R&J with a few hundred well-behaved teens; I know what they thought of it. I've sat in cinemas with teen audiences gripped by Harry Potter; I've seen teen audiences hang on every word that John Marsden says. If a teen audience (or any audience) is displaying signs of boredom, something isn't working.
I was a teenager when I first read R&J, saw it performed (thank you SA STC) and watched a couple movie versions. It's a play about teenagers in love. In the 80s, I loved it like I loved John Hughes films. There's no reason for any audience to not get it, unless the story isn't clear and the characters are not like teenagers.
This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com.