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Monday, April 12, 2010

Oh Romeo, My Heart is All a-Twitter About Bard's Mobile Text

The Royal Shakespeare Company is presenting Romeo and Juliet today as never before — or should that be “b4”?

Starting this morning for the next five weeks, a cast of six will perform the Bard’s romance in real time via the micro-blogging site Twitter.

The audience is potentially global, but it will have nothing like the thrilling physicality of Sir Laurence Olivier’s 1935 Romeo or the richly nuanced diction of the future Dame Judi Dench’s Juliet in 1960 to latch on to.

Instead, they will discover this latest pair of star-cross’d lovers through a stream of postings 140 characters or less, relayed to their computers from the actors’ mobile phones.

Michael Boyd, RSC artistic director, believes mobile phones “don’t need to be the Antichrist for theatre”. The RSC’s aim was always “to bring actors and audiences closer together”, he said. “We look forward to seeing how people engage with this new way of playing.”

The agonisingly named Such Tweet Sorrow is a co-production with Mudlark, which produces entertainment on mobile phones, TV and the internet, with funding from 4iP, Channel 4’s digital investment fund. Auditions were “virtual”. Charles Hunter, from Mudlark, said actors were e-mailed a one-page character brief, a two-page scene broken down minute by minute, and a Twitter identity. They wanted performers who could improvise the right tone within a structured storyline and bring the outside world into the story, just as a real person would.

Three of the cast are fresh from Neil Bartlett’s touring production of Romeo and Juliet for the RSC. Two others have been in other plays with the company.

Roxana Silbert, the RSC associate director who is directing Such Tweet Sorrow, emphasised that it was a loose adaptation of Shakespeare’s play and “was not very reverential”. The original dialogue is lost to more contemporary language so there will be no posts like “@romeoM: R,R, wr4 rT thou R?”

Actors will improvise around a prepared story “grid” to ensure key plot developments happen at the right time. The aim is to make it immediate, convincing and involving.

Tybalt is an “arsey teenager on the verge of being expelled from private school”. Romeo is “an avid PS3-playing, drum’n’bass lover”, Juliet is as obsessed with Robert Pattinson and the Twilight vampire saga as any of today’s 15-year-old girls and the friar runs an internet café.

The audience will be able to post their own thoughts on the characters’ Twitter feeds and possibly become sounding boards for their dilemmas (as long as they don’t give away details such as “she’s not really dead”).

Ms Silbert said: “There’s an economy in the language that’s potentially creative and poetic.” Because most of the characters are teenagers it is natural they should vent frustration at “feeling misunderstood, being kept in by their parents and needing to make themselves heard”, she said.

Charlotte Wakefield, 19, who plays Juliet and has 1,000 Twitter followers in real life, will modify her style: “I’m nearly 20 so I would type in a more sophisticated way, but a 15-year-old in 2010 will use a lot of text speak.”

Will it work? Mr Hunter said: “If you see a good production in the theatre you come away feeling moved. I don’t know what the emotional engagement with Twitter will be. I am hoping it will be quite profound.”

The play is available @Such_Tweet.

Measure for measure

- The Bard has a Twitter following on Shakespeare Says, a spin-off from Chicago Shakespeare Theatre’s Talk Like Shakespeare Day (sample: “Alas, the storm is come again! Methinks an umbrella would have been handy”)

- Umpteen Twitter users have attempted Shakespeare’s plays (sample: “AYLI: Exiled rich people live in the forest and fall in love with each other. Later, the deposed duke gets his dukedom back as he likes it”)

- Times Online Labs presented the original Romeo and Juliet at one line every 15 minutes over a month

- The Royal Opera House mounted a Twitter opera last year

Click here to read The Times' Twitter performance of Romeo & Juliet, March 2009


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