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Last Updated: Tuesday, 6 July, 2004, 07:31 GMT 08:31 UK
Teens give Bard modern makeover
By Ian Youngs
BBC News Online entertainment staff

William Shakespeare
Shakespeare lived in Shoreditch at the end of the 16th Century
A little-known chapter in William Shakespeare's life is being retold for the 21st Century by teenagers in one of the UK's most deprived areas.

The Bard's early career in Shoreditch, London, will be the subject of three plays created by teenagers from Hackney with the National Youth Theatre (NYT).

They are expected to cast Shakespeare as a pop star whose tales of gangs and street life still resonate today.

The plays will be part of a festival in Hoxton Square from 30 July to 1 August.

Shakespeare lived in Shoreditch in the last decade of the 16th Century and wrote classic plays including Romeo & Juliet and A Midsummer Night's Dream there, according to NYT artistic director Paul Roseby.

National Youth Theatre artistic director Paul Roseby
Do not expect two-and-a-half hours of Hamlet - expect three minutes of Hamlet and then a lot of Shoreditch
Paul Roseby
National Youth Theatre
But the Bard is usually associated with The Globe Theatre in Southwark, while Shoreditch is now known as the fashionable centre of the British modern art scene.

Mr Roseby said Shakespeare got much of his inspiration from Shoreditch - but changed many of the settings.

"It wasn't the Merchant of Venice, it was the Merchant of Kingsland Road, E2. It was clearly about that," he said.

The NYT auditioned about 200 young people from Hackney youth groups - many of whom were sceptical about Hoxton Square because of its arty image and about Shakespeare because he was seen as stuffy.

But they warmed to the idea when parallels were drawn with modern life, such as gang rivalries that forbid relationships between people from Hackney and Tottenham, Mr Roseby said.

"This is your Montagues and your Capulets. This is Hackney and Tottenham.

"So you start with this premise and go 'well, interesting you should say that because a bloke called Shakespeare, who lived around the corner here and was the pop idol of his time, actually did exactly that story - so nothing's changed'."


The Globe Theatre
In London, Shakespeare is normally associated with The Globe Theatre
The teenagers will create three half-hour plays, with one performed on the hour every hour at the festival.

"They are going to be based on the life of William Shakespeare in Shoreditch, mixed with Shakespeare text from some of his plays that were written and performed while he was there," Mr Roseby said.

But he added: "Do not expect two-and-a-half hours of Hamlet. Expect three minutes of Hamlet and then a lot of Shoreditch. We're artistically leading it, but it's got to come from them - it's very much their voice.

"We really want it to be street-based and as surprising as possible, because that's exactly how Shakespeare pulled in his audience."

Some actors will be disguised as road sweepers or car park attendants and spout lines at unsuspecting passers-by in an attempt at "guerilla Shakespeare", Mr Roseby said.


The NYT also hopes to have a Shakespeare figure responding to text messages from the audience.

The Globe, The Reduced Shakespeare Company and artist Gavin Turk will be involved in other festival performances and projects.

Meanwhile, the NYT is turning the story of boozy British tourists in the Greek resort of Faliraki into a play to be staged at the Lyric Theatre in Hammersmith in August and September.

"Faliraki highlights those Brits abroad and takes us on a journey that will focus on two under-age lovers, Carling and Chardonnay, and looks at the pressure that these people on holiday feel and enjoy, or endure," Mr Roseby said.

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