As both a tradition and a response to the Shakespeare 400 festival occurring all over the country this year, Intermission Youth Theatre bring their latest work to the stage of St Saviour’s Church. After exploring themes from the bard himself in My Story, My Music, My Monologue earlier this year, the latest work Love Me To Death is inspired by Romeo & Juliet, seamlessly extracting lyrics from the greatest love story ever told and fusing them with Darren Raymond’s up to date, modern linguistic styling. Raymond writes the play as a fluid, evolving process – he sets up workshops with the members of the group and gets their input, their flavour and their voice. The lines simultaneously contrast and complement, the way in which language moves to fit its circumstance and the society in which we find ourselves today.
Intermission Youth Theatre’s actors are exactly the kind of people that this group should be aimed at – individuals that may be at risk or lacking in opportunity, disengaged with Shakespeare’s language and marking him as outdated and academic. But when given an opportunity, it is all too clear that the brilliance and the relevance of Shakespeare resonates today and will continue to hold its own many years into the future. Romeo and Juliet for example is about love, loss and gang warfare – it pleads with its audience to consider tolerance, acceptance and how small-minded opinions can only lead down a road to destruction.
Novel interpretations of Shakespeare are nevertheless risky business, ultimately the group are taking a well-known story and attempting to improve upon it, take on the bard at his own game. There are points when Love Me To Death and its updated themes don’t work – the tattoo parlour over the wedding chapel; the death of Juliet by gun instead of by poison, both of these feel out of place and jar with an otherwise seamlessly entwined duality of traditional and contemporary. But others ring all too real – East vs. South postcode clans; the head of the Capulet clan Capo (Micah Loubon) and his drug-dealing business to pay his sister Juliet (Eleanor Lees) through school; his muscled cousin and bodyguard Tybault (Kashif Douglas). Loubon in particular is a savvy performer, convincing his audience that his professional management of his illegal company that he has wit and brains. A tightly coiled spring, he flips between fearsome and tender to grief-stricken at the end – the latter emotion is not quite impactful enough but is very close.
On the other side of the coin are the Montagues from South and both Benvolio (Danielle Adegoke) and Mercutio (Samuel Awoyo) are well cast as a comedy double act. Adegoke in particular is the full package, a balanced combination of feisty and assured tempered with fearful and subservient. The constant peacekeeper, her efforts are ultimately in vain when best friend Mercutio meets his end at the end of the first half after delivering a particularly poignant speech about the ‘concrete jungle’ that he rails to break free from.
The tricky lead roles, the star-crossed lovers, are two of the most challenging in Shakespeare’s repertoire, mainly because they are so over-performed and easily tend towards naïve, youthful and inexperienced. Romeo (Mo Barrie) is a competent touch, a safe pair of hands. But it is Juliet (Lees) that grasps the updated text more strongly, full of wisdom beyond her years. In this production, their roles are supported by a chorus of long-since fallen comrades; Raymond takes the pressure off and injects an intriguing dimension when the seven chime in to punctuate key parts of the play. Mirrored on the Greek fates, they emphasise and observe, put words to a collection of unanswered questions and elevate Love Me To Death to innovative new heights.
Now in its 5th year, Intermission Youth Theatre continues to inspire and educate, championing history’s greatest playwright to the next generation of performer. Young minds and young talent, rough clay with great potential to be moulded into some inspirational professionals.
Director: Fabian Spencer; Craig Blake
Writer: Darren Raymond – Inspired by William Shakespeare
Producer: Cecilia Segar
Design: Catherine Morgan (Set); Julian McCready (Lighting); Elleshia Flowers (Costume)
Cast: Micah Loubon; Eleanor Lees; Kashif Douglas; Danielle Adegoke; Samuel Awoyo; Mo Barrie
Runs until 19 November 2016