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June 28, 2012 5:30 pm
Upstairs, in the vast main playing space of the Roundhouse, The Comedy of Errors is currently playing. Downstairs, in an atmospheric underground hub, Shakespeare is also on show, but in a very different guise. In a collaboration between the London International Festival of Theatre (Lift), the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Roundhouse, the Brazilian director Renato Rocha has worked with a group of teenagers from London and Brazil to mine Shakespeare’s texts for examples of the ecstasy and pain of young love.
The main sources are Hamlet and Ophelia, Romeo and Juliet and Othello and Desdemona – all couples who end tragically. The company respond to their experiences with a vivid, stylised and physical piece of theatre that examines the expression of a feeling so raw and intense that you might kill or die for it. They link the story of these fictitious characters too to the overwhelming nature of young love and loss more generally: which of us, as young people, has not fallen hard and been deaf to parental encouragement to get over it?
The idea then is sound and the staging is, aptly, all-encompassing. Audience members are drawn into this world and into the mindset of the distraught lover. They are first encouraged to wander round a circular galley, peering into side alcoves in which individual performers are trapped with their own despair – one trying to get his words out through a gas mask, another sheltering beneath a threadbare umbrella. They are then corralled into a central space, in which the young actors repeat in bold, choreographed sequences, key moments of attraction (Romeo seeing Juliet for the first time) and repulsion (Hamlet rejecting Ophelia). The sense of recklessness and emotional abandon is palpable.
But though the staging is immensely evocative and the performances are impressive and bravely intimate, the piece struggles for cohesion. The text is the main problem: the show mixes extracts from Shakespeare with monologues devised by the cast, which results in a see-sawing of quality that makes the evening patchy. It’s not easy for anyone to try and match up to Shakespeare, and it’s not achieved here. It is an ambitious project but it just might have fared better if it had simply matched the intensity, rigour and passion of the young performers to Shakespeare’s original words.
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