Guest Article by Paul Hart

I love the idea of touring two shows in repertory, building an ensemble who get to know each other and work together to create a bold reimagining of these two plays. Repertory theatre creates a unique bond and the idea of the touring actors coming together to present these plays across the UK and beyond is very exciting.

The Watermill has built a phenomenal reputation for its work on Shakespeare, touring all over the world. I hoped that these new productions of Romeo + Juliet and Twelfth Night would combine everything that we’re good at with music, a focus on the verse, and an imaginative take on these two fantastic plays. They’ve been huge hits for us at The Watermill and have sold incredibly well so we’re really looking forward to taking them on the road!

Romeo + Juliet is the first show that I staged as Artistic Director at The Watermill Theatre. We’ve gone for a bold concept, reimagining Verona in a modern bar owned by the Capulets. It’s full of music, youth and energy, with a lively selection of folk and rock songs performed by the cast.

A brilliant young ensemble of actor-musicians reimagine the play from the point of view of the chorus, retelling the story as young people caught in the cycle of violence. It has become clear to me that Romeo and Juliet are these kind of complete idealists who are looking for something greater than constant feuding. Love for them is an escape, not just a romantic sensibility that they feel towards each other.

Twelfth Night feels like the perfect play to complement Romeo + Juliet. The thought behind setting the play in the 1920s came about after having done such a contemporary version of Romeo + Juliet. I liked the idea that we could set them in different times and places. I became obsessed with the idea that Romeo + Juliet is a play about civil war and there are mentions in Twelfth Night that the characters have come out of a period of warfare. I thought it was very interesting to link those two ideas together but to be talking about them in very different contexts. They are also, I believe, his two greatest plays about love.

Given Twelfth Night’s obsession with music, love and excess, a jazz club seemed the perfect setting. I wanted Illyria to be a beautiful and seductive place, contrasting with the harsh, metallic world of Romeo + Juliet. The cast perform a scintillating selection of 1920s influenced jazz songs but often with a modern twist, playing on the idea of Illyria as a timeless, ethereal place.

The 1920s were a point in history when an entire generation had been wiped out and new rules were surfacing. People wanted to celebrate life and challenge some of the conservative values in society.

When Shakespeare’s plays were first being performed, they were staged in contemporary costumes with contemporary music. From sword fighting to people selling booze in the courtyard, seeing these shows for the first time would have been a thrilling experience.

Above all I want Shakespeare to be entertaining and not to be treated like museum pieces.

More details about Romeo and Juliet and Twelfth Night can be found here.

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