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Shakespeare returns to roots



Preview by Lizzie Guilfoyle

SHAKESPEARE as you've never seen him before - that's the aim of members of the National Youth Theatre (NYT) who, alongside teenagers from Hackney, are preparing three plays for the Hoxton Square festival on July 30 and August 1, 2004.

They will focus on the Bard's early career, in Shoreditch, and be given a decidedly contemporary slant. In fact, rumour has it that William will be portrayed as a pop star whose stories of street life are as relevant today as they were in Elizabethan times.

Although usually associated with the Globe Theatre, in Southwark, Shakespeare lived in Shoreditch during the last decade of the 16th century where, according to Paul Roseby, the artistic director of the NYT, he wrote such works as Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Over the years, Shoreditch has become the fashionable centre for British modern arts, so is a fitting setting in more ways than one.

Roseby believes that Shakespeare drew on his experiences in Shoreditch for much of his work but simply changed the locations.

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

About 200 youngsters from youth groups in Hackney auditioned for the project and although, at first, they voiced misgivings - largely on account of Hoxton Square's bohemian image and Shakespeare's perceived stuffiness - all were dispelled when comparisons with present day life were pointed out - an obvious allusion to the rivalry that, even now, exists between the inhabitants of Hackney and Tottenham - Shakespeare's Montagues and Capulets, according to Roseby.

The three, half-hour plays, one of which will be performed on the hour, every hour, during the festival, will combine aspects of Shakespeare's life in Shoreditch with 'text from some of his plays that were written and performed while he was there'.

To this, Roseby 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."

Accordingly, unsuspecting passers-by will be accosted by actors disguised as road sweepers or car park attendants, in an attempt at, to quote Roseby, 'guerilla Shakespeare'.

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