ENGLISH: Bringing the Bard to life in our modern world

ELIZABETH CALLAND-BROOKE explains how she and fellow fifth form students saw Shakespeare in a new light after travelling to Newcastle to see the RSC's youthful and energetic take on Romeo and Juliet

THE RSC’s ground-breaking adaptation of Romeo and Juliet at Newcastle's Theatre Royal was unlike anything we have studied, or could have even imagined.

It caused us to look at main study themes from completely new angles, and provided us with a depth of insight which will not only benefit us in our looming exams but give us a new appreciation of an author that the majority or students dread the idea of studying. 

Director Erica Whyman added a new complexity to the already controversial story by altering the genders and sexualities of certain characters, which made Shakespeare’s intentions of highlighting toxic masculinity and attitudes towards women more accessible to a younger, modern audience. 

She wrote in in the programme: “When I began preparations to direct this beautiful play, I knew I wanted to transpose it to a world as close to our own as possible.”

Such a subtle difference had the ability to completely change scenes, such as the fight between Mercutio and Tybalt. What once was a pure example of men proving their power to society, and proof of the destructive nature or toxic masculinity, became an example of one young woman’s desperation to prove her power in comparison to men. Glances from Benvolio to Romeo were quiet, but noticed by all who attended, and brought up the questions of a man’s need to suppress emotions not deemed appropriate in society.

Yes, sexuality may not be a theme the exam board is ever going to deliver a question on, but Shakespeare is not just for exams. He wrote his plays for an audience’s pleasure, not a teenager’s suffering. A theatre visit benefits not just our knowledge and ability to analyse the play but also our own literary appreciation.

I thoroughly enjoyed this adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, because it was unlike any other interpretation of Shakespeare’s works that I have ever seen. It had simple costumes and a stripped-back set design, which allowed the power of the acting, and the power of Shakespeare’s words, to carry the play by themselves. 

While I don’t believe it will really have affected the way we write in the exams, I believe it’ll change how passionately we write, and will change our understanding of the analysis we make. More than anything, it will change our out-dated attitudes to the writer, helping us to see him a new light, which I believe is something students all across the country desperately need.