THE last time I read Romeo and Juliet, I was 14. The text was given to us because it was allegedly the most ‘accessible’ of William Shakespeare’s texts, and my English teacher was not wrong.
What better way to get pupils interested in texts half a millennium old than to present them with a pair of idiotic teenagers blinded by first love, especially in the form of Leonardo DiCaprio and Clare Danes?
The premise for Pilot Theatre’s version of Shakespeare’s tragic love story isn’t too far removed from the same tactics employed by key stage three teachers.
Director Marcus Romer talked to The Guide about his labour of star-cross’d love, grabbing the attention of testosterone-driven 15-year-olds, and why his vision for R&J is more like an Elizabethan Inbetweeners.
“We make work for young people,” said Marcus, who has been directing for 20 years. “Romeo and Juliet tells the story of young forbidden love and every single young person either dreams about being in that situation, or is in it, or by proxy through a friend. That first love is universal, it hasn’t changed in 500 years.
“What will be interesting is to see older audience members reaction – it’s a bit raunchy in the first half. It’s a bit like the Elizabethan Inbetweeners, these lads are doing what lads do when they’re 15. They’re grabbing each other and messing about and pre-drinking on the way to the party like we used to do at the park.
“If we pretended that’s not what teenagers did, the audience would sniff it out and say it’s boring. In my head I’ve got two rows of 15-year-old lads sitting behind two rows of 15-year-old girls and I have got to get these lads’ attention – if I can get them interested we’ve done it.”
A tendency to err on the side of romantic caution is the direction that many theatre companies choose when it comes to the Montagues and the Capulets, but forget about an insipid heroine in this production: Juliet is, in Marcus’ words, “a bit of a cow”.
“We’re not putting it through a lens and filtering it,” he said “Juliet is a stroppy teenager, she’s rancid at points. She’s not a person being dreamy because that’s boring. She’s got a voice, she tells her dad to shut up.
“And we’re not doing a fey ‘wonderful Romeo’s a hero’ version. He’s the good looking one who gets the girls and gets the lads into the party.
“Some people will say it isn’t Shakespeare but it’s written to be bawdy. The people who think it’s a beautiful love story are missing the point of the rough and tumble way people are at this age.
“Some people in their 60s and 70s will tut, but get over it. It isn’t added in, it’s within the text, ‘to raise a spirit in his mistress’ circle’ is talking about something else entirely and the lads all laugh. It’s about young people getting off with each other.”
While the script stays more than truthful to the original text, the production flexes its contemporary muscle by strewing the stage with 2,000 bunches of flowers in a monumental shrine to the doomed lovers.
As Marcus points out, there are no doublets, tights or wobbly swords at Pilot, just a willingness to get across a universal message in a modern way.
He said: “I’m not an aficionado, I don’t worship at the altar of William Shakespeare. I want to tell good stories, make contact with people.
“We’re saying this kind of story reflects what we feel and know and have seen and it has something to tell people. It’s a journey we’re all going through.”
Romeo and Juliet runs from March 15 to March 19. Tickets cost £13-17 and are available from www.theatreroyalwake field.co.uk
The Express and the Theatre Royal have teamed up to give away three pairs of tickets to see Romeo and Juliet. To enter answer the following question:
Who directed the 1996 version of Romeo and Juliet starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Clare Danes?
Send your answer on a postcard with your name, address and a daytime phone number to Romeo and Juliet Competition, c/o Pontefract and Castleford Express, 1 Front Street, Pontefract, WF8 1BL, by Friday, March 11. Usual Express rules apply.