A modern-day Romeo & Juliet - for schools

Damned By Despair'Royal National Theatre London''Rehearsal
Damned By Despair'Royal National Theatre London''Rehearsal

A dazzling modern version of Shakespeare’s classic ‘Romeo and Juliet’ - all the way from London’s National Theatre and aimed at young people aged 8-13 - opens at the Waterside Theatre tomorrow with two matinees.

The ‘Journal’ caught up with Director Bijan Sheibani, an Associate Director of the National Theatre, to find out more about this bold new take on Shakespeare’s tragedy before its world premiere tomorrow, as part of Derry’s 2013 celebrations.

“We’ve basically made Shakespeare simpler for a new audience, so it sounds like modern English,” Bijan said of ‘Romeo and Juliet’.

“We’ve tried to make it as vibrant and accessible as possible. We have a very young cast who are all in tune with what young people like, and while we’re keeping the main storyline, it’s quite a bit shorter at just an hour - which should hopefully encourage local schools to come.”

A modern city, a deadly feud and a pair of star-crossed lovers. Set against a vibrant urban backdrop, bursting full of excitement, colour, dancing and live song, a company of eight recreate the most famous love story of all time.

This swift, contemporary celebration of William Shakespeare’s much loved drama - by Ben Power - brings the play to life for new generations.

“There’s a lot of live music in the production and it’s all set in a modern, fantasy version of Britain,” the director revealed.

“It uses a lot of contemporary pop music that children will recognise. We didn’t want it to feel like an old story, so now it feels more of a modern-day story with modern-day dance sequences, there’s a Bollywood part and a wedding and we’ve even got some rapping in there too. There’s also a really cool fight-dance sequence, influenced I guess by ‘West Side Story’ and Baz Luhrmann’s films,” he added.

The cast includes Esh Alladi, Ashley Chin, Natalie Dew, Tendayi Jembere, Lashana Lynch, Bunmi Mojekwu, Umar Pasha and Archana Ramaswamy.

After visiting Derry, ‘Romeo and Juliet’ will tour London schools in the summer term, before coming to the National Theatre in July. The dedicated team behind it are hoping to attract a new legion of fans to Shakespeare’s 400 year-old works.

“Ideally, we’re trying to appeal to primary and early secondary schools and hope to give them a better understanding of Shakespeare’s work.”

”Our cast are all excited about coming to Derry,” he added. “We have a special early evening show at 7pm on Thursday, May 30, which will hopefully attract more families and local schools will come along.”

Romeo and Juliet arrives at Waterside Theatre tomorrow, Wednesday, May 29, and runs until Friday, May 31. The production is suitable for families with children ages 8 years and over. Show times are as follows: Wednesday, May 29, at 10.30am and 1.30pm; Thursday, May 30, at 1.30pm and 7pm; and on Friday, May 31, at 10.30am and again at 1.30pm.

Tickets cost £8, £6 for under 18s, Schools/Groups tickets £5. Contact the Waterside Theatre Box Office on: 71 314000.