Love's labour;Talkback;Opinion;Features amp; Arts

10th December 1999 at 00:00
Or how Icameto enjoy 'Romeoand Juliet', by Colin Trenholme

I've never been fond of Romeo and Juliet. The first time I saw them, at the now-defunct Leeds Playhouse, they just seemed ridiculous - the late Richard Beckinsale (not the shortest of actors) was far too big for the balcony scene. It was obvious that he could have reached Natasha Pyne (Juliet) just by standing on his toes andstretching out his arms.

Beckinsale had become a heart-throb through his appearances in television sitcom The Lovers and, as a result, was chased through the theatre restaurant after the performance by a horde of squealing girls.

Ms Pyne was also popular at the time, thanks to her part in another sitcom, Father, Dear Father. The producers obviously hoped the two young stars would boost audience figures.

The second time I met the "star-cross'd lovers" I fell asleep. Well, it was a Monday night and I had been teaching all day and... oh, it just seemed to take such a long time to get going that by the final scene, parting was definitely not such sweet sorrow.

Now, I may not feel R and J's passion, but I do have an urge for the literacy hour and, of course, in Year 6, the children are expected to include a bit of old "Wobbledagger" (as my dad always called him) in their studies. So, one of the authority's literacy consultants rang me and asked if I'd like the theatre group Shakespeare 4 Kidz to come into school to conduct a workshop "at a reduced price".

I rarely refuse a bargain so agreed almost immediately. "Which play are they doing?" I asked, hoping for the Dream because I know it well, having played Bottom, Starveling and Snug in amateur productions (basically, if they want a little man who can fall about they send for me). It turned out to be my much-loathed R and J.

When I first used this abbreviation to one of the kids, she thought I meant Richard and Judy. Right, I thought, we'll make a go of it. Animated Shakespeare from the BBC, Leonardo DiCaprio version from the video shop, abridged stories from Leon Garfield ("Isn't he a cat?" asked one lad), Shakespeare t-shirt from The National Portrait Gallery, posters from The Theatre Museum, soundtrack from West Side Story. Forget all the South Park merchandise, just give me The Stratford Selection.

To my delight and surprise, we're nearly all into it - even me. The group I teach is a mixture of Years 5 and 6 and, admittedly, the most capable readers in an inner-city school, but it's been great. The "Bard of the Day" wears the t-shirt for the next day's lesson (it's getting a little grubby now but there again, the children have enjoyed some of the smuttier dialogue as well. "Does he really mean that by naked weapon?") They understand the plot - and I know it better now too - and have compared incidents in their streets to the activities of the more unruly Capulets and Montagues. They've brought in travel brochures featuring modern-day Verona, which, of course, urge you to "visit Juliet's balcony".

They became hysterical at my suggestion that, after improvising one of the "public place" scenes, we would next pair up for thefinal death scene, and they loved the image of the nurse's "billowing bosom".

The theatre group arrives for a workshop this week and we're planning a visit to the company's version of the tragedy nextmonth. Let's hope the momentum keeps going. I'm a convert. Now, if we can do the same thing with Hamlet...

Colin Trenholme teaches at a Leeds primary school

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