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Love will tear us apart

English Touring Theatre aims to get beyond a teenage love story, as Aleks Sierz reports

Romeo and Juliet

By William Shakespeare

English Touring Theatre

The tragic tale of "star-cross'd lovers" has been regularly adapted over the years, with examples such as the new version by New York's Splinter Group, called Shakespeare's Ramp;J (now in London's West End), proving that the play is a firm favourite. In feud-ridden Verona, with the Montagues and Capulets at each other's throats, Romeo meets Juliet at a Capulet ball and the young couple fall in love. After Romeo accidentally kills her cousin, and in order to avoid marrying Paris (her father's choice), Juliet takes a sleeping draught making it seem as if she's dead, resulting in a misunderstanding which destroys both lovers.

Stephen Unwin, who directs the English Touring Theatre's production, says:

"If you make the play simply a teenage love story, audiences end up just wanting to slap the couple and the play doesn't work. But if you make it a portrait of a society, then what happens is that this dream of young love, which is very beautiful, is confronted by a more cynical reality." That is "part of the great wisdom of Shakespeare's play", argues Unwin, adding that Romeo and Juliet "has been hijacked by people who believe that it's just about youth" and who underestimate "how much it is also about parents and class".

His version is set in postwar Italy, familiar to us from neo-realist films.

"We wanted to get away from the men-in-tights approach, which only works if you've got a huge costume budget," he says. "Instead, we've gone for Verona just after the Second World War: a society which doesn't know who's in charge yet, where the new generation is breaking with tradition, and where there's immense poverty." The main theme, says Unwin, is "the clash between idealism and the real world". The play is also about "what happens when you can't talk to your parents. Neither Romeo nor Juliet has a good relationship with their parents, but they have relationships with substitute parents: Friar Lawrence and the Nurse, an older generation - like grandparents".

ETT offers active in-school workshops for all levels of students. Contact Rosie McKay Tel: 020 7450 1990 ext 302

Email: rosiem@englishtouringtheatre.co.uk

Romeo and Juliet tours nationally from September 8 to December 6

www.englishtouringtheatre.co.uk. Tel: 020 7450 1990

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