Transposing Romeo and Juliet

Kathryn Hunter in A Tender Thing.  Photo by Keith Pattison.

Shakespeare's plays are so robust they lend themselves to translation and adaption.  His work is universal, and transposing or translating happens every day and can rejuvenated a well loved play.

Ben Power recently appeared on the RSC's Creative Conversations panel, where he recounted how A Tender Thing came into being. A few years ago, an actor in his 60s told RSC Artistic Director Michael Boyd that he finally felt ready to play Romeo. Michael Boyd was fascinated that playing a teenager in love had appealed, so set the challenge to transpose Romeo and Juliet to a more appropriate setting for an older generation. 

The timespan of the play and the relatively short lifespan of each character in the original allows the setting to change without losing the play's meaning. With A Tender Thing, you can never escape that the source material is the text of Romeo and Juliet. It is Shakespeare's words. His story. His meaning. But the setting is 60 years away from the original. 

It helps that we know Romeo and Juliet so well. Its very DNA is in our conscience. We know the characters, the text, the storyline and themes. The original text has been heavily abridged, and while the words are all Shakespeare's, Ben took the source text and treated it as a long poem that could be spoken by any character within a new structure. Romeo and Juliet reminds you of your experience of falling in love. It is an ageless story we can all relate to. 

Ben Power is a writer and dramaturg. Since 2010 he has been an Associate Director of the National Theatre. From 2006-2010, Ben was the Associate Director of Headlong. He has recently written the screenplays for Richard II and Henry V for BBC productions that will be broadcast this summer as part of Shakespeare Unlocked. 

'These projects are the point of the World Shakespeare Festival – a   celebration of Shakespeare's relevance to a contemporary audience.'
Ben Power 

First published in RSC Members' News earlier this year.

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