Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet conjures visions of teenagers, tortured by love, trapped within feuding families, and fuelled by an impossible passion. It’s how Shakespeare, master of tragedy, has always been interpreted.
But Bell Shakespeare’s touring company – Actors at Work – presented a considerably more thoughtful view when they performed for SHCS’ 7 – 10 students on Monday. The pared and adapted production, paused at key dramatic intervals to consider the choices being made and the forces at work in the lives of these young people, touching on the innate rationality of our students, while drawing them towards the intensity of feeling between the young lovers. The focus was less on an overwrought and sensationalised sense of tragedy, than on a genuine valuing of two young lives, the importance of family, and the damage done through a loss of trust between the two generations. Perhaps surprisingly, the company fleshed out the comedy that arises when teenagers enter the world and navigate it themselves for the first time. But a peculiar sense of tragedy stalked each comic encounter.
Students were invited to question the actors at the conclusion of the performance, then broke into year groups to discuss the play and the actors’ interpretation with teachers. It was encouraging to see how clearly they had grasped the action of the play and engaged with the arguments and ideas it explores.
Shakespeare pronounces the ancient feud between the families buried with the death of their beloved children. Peace through sacrifice. I could not help but hear echoes of the sacrifice of God Himself in the loss of His son to reconcile a feuding world to Himself. No wonder Christ is named the Prince of Peace.