I’ve written here before about the recent spate of imaginative, abridged Shakespeare versions designed to draw children in — but it’s a topic worth revisiting. One strand of the RSC’s famous and succinct three-line Shakespeare Manifesto is ‘Start it earlier’ and it’s an idea which is being taken more and more seriously.
Last week, for example, I saw and reviewed for The Stage the latest in the RSC’s Young People’s Shakespeare (YPS) series. This time, under Tim Crouch’s imaginative direction, it was an 80 minute King Lear pared down to a family drama over Christmas and intended mainly for primary school children. Until very recently few people would have considered Lear as workable for children in any shape or form. Kids, of course, can cope with far more than most of us think they can and most of the 8 and 9 year olds in the audience were riveted.
Earlier this year I enjoyed, and reviewed the RSC’s In a Pickle which is loosely a very jolly, enchanting introduction to The Winter’s Tale for pre-schoolers. More mesmerised children for me to marvel at.
Also last week I interviewed Purni Morell now in her second season as Artistic Director at Unicorn Theatre. She too is working on matters related to The Winter’s Tale. A Winter’s Tale (note the switch from the definite to the indefinite article) is a play for Young Audiences by Belgian playwright Ignace Corelissen. It’s a four hander which gives us characters staging The Winter’s Tale with the boundaries between their ‘real’ selves and their stage roles carefully blurred. Morell is directing and it opens on October 2. I shall be reviewing it.
I’m also due to review Tim Crouch’s one man show I, Malvolio at Unicorn next month. This is one of a series of plays Crouch has written which explore a Shakespeare play from the point of view of a minor, or relatively minor, character. His I,Cinna the Poetwas a great success last year and I’ve seen productions of I, Caliban and I, Peaseblossom. A set of these plays was published recently by [Oberon Books] http://www.amazon.co.uk/I-Shakespeare-Oberon-Modern-Playwrights/dp/1849431264/ref=sr13?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1347705884&sr=1-3)
Ed Hall’s Pocket Propellers are another source of very interesting versions of Shakespeare for children. I loved Pocket Comedy, a take on Comedy of Errors and I - like the hundreds of children I saw it with - was pretty taken with the company’ Pocket Henry V earlier this year. Hall, his colleagues and all-male casts are very adept at making meaning clear - as well as finding comedy in unlikely corners of the play.
And Oddsocks Productions - a 2012 discovery for me - take that process much further. Their Julius Caesar, which I saw in an East London park on a sunny Sunday evening, is a real romp. Hilarious as it is, though, it still tells the story with honesty and uses a great deal of Shakespeare’s language.
So, all in all there’s a great deal going on. Despite all attempts by the National Curriculum to make it stuffy and boring, Shakespeare continues to excite children. The material simply proves over and over again that it’s too good to hold down.