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Midsummer musical

Shakespeare has been given a tuneful makeover for today's pupils. Adi Bloom reports

"I just love weddings!" Puck exclaims, as around him assorted guests link arms and sing of their joy at the happy occasion.

This is not Shakespeare as the Royal Shakespeare Company would know it.

When the bard wrote lines for a chorus, it is unlikely he was thinking of an all-singing, all-dancing chorusline. But a new, musical version of A Midsummer Night's Dream is now available for schools on video and DVD.

Using occasional dialogue from the original Dream (the script credit is "Julian Chenery, Matt Gimblett and William Shakespeare"), it aims to convey plot, character and theme in a way that is accessible for children.

Shakespeare 4 Kidz, the company behind the film, has performed live musical versions of the play, as well as Macbeth and Romeo and Juliet, in theatres around the country. But this is its first video release.

If it is successful, the company plans to record musical versions of a further six plays. Julian Chenery, founder of Shakespeare 4 Kidz, said:

"Shakespearean language would be a barrier for a young audience. We're trying to get the flavour and essence over to a young age-group, to open up an appreciation for the story."

For the small-screen version, the company has filmed a live theatre performance. Mr Chenery hopes that, by presenting theatre through film, he will encourage children to attend performances.

"I don't care if they just go to see panto, as long as they get there," he said.

"And maybe we'll get more people going to see RSC Shakespeare productions, because they have seen ours."

The new DVD includes scenes using the original Shakespeare text so that teachers can cut back and forward between the two versions. Ann Daly, head of St Augustine's primary school in Runcorn, Cheshire, has already ordered a copy.

"We are in an area of high social deprivation, where parents aren't going to take children to the theatre," she said. "But now pupils are happy to come home and say they are studying Shakespeare. They feel that it's a grown-up medium."

She rejected accusations of dumbing-down the curriculum by avoiding original Elizabethan text. "You don't give a child a piece of musical notation before they have heard music. You don't put a dictionary in a cot.

The same applies to Shakespeare."

Stephanie Darlington, 11, also welcomes the new approach. She said: "Most children think Shakespeare is posh and boring, and that it's men wearing tights with shorts. But we've found out that it can be funny and serious.

It's a bit like EastEnders, really."

www.shakespeare4kidz.co.uk

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