First Encounters with Shakespeare: Romeo and Juliet

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Is Shakespeare for children?

How about a Shakespeare tragedy? One with murder, deceit and suicide?

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You wouldn’t think so would you; and yet when I found out that the Royal Shakespeare Company are currently touring the UK with a child friendly version of Romeo and Juliet, I knew we had to check it out.

How gory would it be? Would my children cope with the ending, especially since live theatre is often more evocative than stories on the screen? Would it help them enjoy Shakespeare more, or put them off?  

First Encounters with Shakespeare: Romeo and Juliet is a brief introduction to Shakespeare for children. Rated at 7+, this 90 minute play was an abridged version of the original.

The play is both stretching and accessible for children.

It is stretching because the entire play is in the original Shakespearian language. While it is an abridged version, it is still 90 minutes long (with no interval) which is a long time to concentrate, especially late at night. Our performance began at 7.30pm which is already after our 7 year old’s normal bedtime. But despite this, both our boys (aged 9 and 7) were able to stay engaged for the duration of the show. This is because this First Encounters production is so accessible for children.

The play began differently to most other Shakespeare plays – the cast came out to mix with the audience – not in role, but simply as themselves. They spent the first few minutes having friendly chats with individual members of the audience.

Following this, the cast, along with the assistant director and members of backstage crew went onto the stage to introduce themselves. Then they explained about their role in making the production work. This was brief but very informative and personable, and immediately gave the audience a sense of connection with the actors on stage. The assistant director helpfully set the scene by giving a bit of context of where the play begins; specifically, that there are two feuding families in Verona; the Montagues and the Capulets, and that Romeo Montague is in love with a woman called Rosaline.

The cast were phenomenal. They made the Shakspearian language understandable with their energetic performance. There was plenty of movement, clever (and very unusual) use of lighting and dynamic fighting scenes. True to how Shakespeare was originally performed, the actors were not mic’d up, and they simply projected and enunciated their lines – no mean feat given how wordy Shakspearian language is! We were sat on the back row of the theatre and could hear it very clearly.

An unusual aspect of the play, which I’m convinced helped to keep our children engaged, was the performance of a “youth company”; local teenagers who took part in the performance. They would enter the stage from a variety of entrances – sometimes from out of the audience itself and would perform alongside the professionals, delivering their lines with precision and volume too. The benefit of this was two-fold, it kept the audience (which was made up of a lot of children and teenagers) engaged during the performance, while also inspiring a new generation of Shakespearean actors. Imagine getting the opportunity to perform alongside the Royal Shakespeare Company as a young person – that could change the direction of your life!

So, is a Shakespearian tragedy suitable for children? It’s a yes from us!

Tickets start from £5 for children. Check it out at a venue near you.

STRATFORD-UPON-AVON 21 – 30 MARCH

HULL 9 – 10 APRIL

NOTTINGHAM 15 – 17 APRIL

STOKE-ON-TRENT 18 APRIL

SKEGNESS 23 – 25 APRIL

PETERBOROUGH 26 APRIL

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Cathy who is married to Scott and has three lively little'uns. Aged 9, 7 and 5.

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