Many a long year ago, I had to teach a Shakespeare play to classes of Grade Ten. It was - my friends - a chore. The Bard, on the page as he was, was of no great interest to these bubbling teens. Perhaps, had I had a stage and professional thespians upon it, I might have fared better. From this experience I have garnered a broad acceptance of innovative ways (and readings) through which to present Shagsbeard's kings and errant princes. Let his lovers woo as ardently as any teen. Let the attendant lords slip in farmyard muck. Let his words dance to different tunes.
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Shakespeare in Slang and Serbian
Triana Victoria in “The Dark Side of Love,” a production with a young British-Brazilian cast playing at the Roundhouse Theater as part of the World Shakespeare Festival.
LONDON — The names of the three couples were familiarly foreboding — Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet and Ophelia, Othello and Desdemona — but almost everything else about them felt fresh and disorienting.
To the beat of electronica and pulsing lights, they gyrated lustily on a dance floor in a circular brick chamber ringed by a subterranean labyrinth of narrow passageways. As an audience stood and watched like voyeurs at a rave, they would shout above the music, mixing Shakespeare (“never doubt I love”) with more modern cries about “caring too much.” Hamlet and Othello, holding their ladies, were sweeter than usual, and Ophelia seemed happily sane — for a time, at least, until their revels ended, and fate took its usual toll.
Turning doomed classical lovers into heartsick club kids, and weaving lines from the original plays with improvised slang from its 15 teenage actors, this production, called “The Dark Side of Love,” is one of the more experimental outings of the about 70 shows in the World Shakespeare Festival, a major cultural component of the London Olympic year. Yet this work, a collaboration of Brazilian and British artists running through Sunday at the Roundhouse Theater here, is also squarely representative of the aim of the festival: “to treat Shakespeare as the world’s playwright,” according to its director, Deborah Shaw.
“Rather than simply stage Shakespeare’s 37 plays we wanted to look at how artists shine light on their countries and societies through the prism of Shakespeare,” Ms. Shaw said. Noting that only 5 percent of the dialogue in “Dark Side” is Shakespeare’s, she added, “If not all the words are his, or the plots veer off in new directions, that’s all the better.”
Perhaps the most logistically ambitious part of the festival was Globe to Globe, in which leaders of Shakespeare’s Globe Theater spent nearly two years lining up 37 international theater companies to mount one of the plays in their native languages at the Globe over six weeks this spring. The shows included a new “Balkan trilogy” with theaters from Serbia, Albania and Macedonia each performing one of the three parts of “Henry VI” — not coincidentally a play about civil war — as well as productions of “The Comedy of Errors” from the Afghan troupe Roy-e-Sabs and “The Merchant of Venice” from the Habima theater company of Israel (which drew protesters waving Palestinian flags).