Speaking to an old school friend about how young people are introduced to Shakespeare showed just how difficult and uninteresting she had found him during her younger years. Being a long-time lover of Shakespeare I began to ponder that frequently-asked question: how can Shakespeare be accessed by young people in a way that is exciting, fresh and means something to them? One name immediately sprang to mind: Rupert Goold. Goold has the ability to bring something new, fresh and energetic to his productions of Shakespeare, which can open the door for young people.
His four recent contributions (The Tempest, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet and The Merchant of Venice) have been debated by critics and the public alike. It is his Romeo and Juliet and The Merchant in particular which stand out as being relevant for young people, and to be enjoyed by them, too. With blazing fires and a striking passion between the two leads, Romeo and Juliet centred on a world of fiery young people struggling against dominating families and social constraints – not quite the “star-cross’d lovers” we might usually think of. With such a dynamic approach to the play (and we mustn’t forget Juliet’s Converse trainers!), Goold allows a deeper connection between the lovers and young people of today. And, perhaps, what is most important is that the stage is allowed to pulsate with life; there is nothing boring about Goold. The Merchant, with its parallels to a modern day society of celebrity, money, and rather brutal prejudice and racism, is one which is all-too-relevant for young people today.
I asked student critic Dan Hutton to offer his thoughts on Goold’s productions and their accessibility: “What Goold does so well is to create worlds which everyone can relate to. He sees that Goold’s contemporary references and the insertion of songs makes it easy for young people to connect. Student Anna Laycock terms Goold’s productions “unique interpretations” which allow “Shakespeare’s characters to be relevant for young people”. And, ultimately, for Hutton, what is really important is that Goold never compromises with the text – he provides the complete Shakespearean experience.
There are of course those young people who disagree that Goold’s work provides access to Shakespeare. Speaking to a group of fellow students, some consider his approach too alienating, and young people may struggle to ‘get’ The Merchant with its setting transferred from Venice to Vegas. But despite these views, I believe Goold stands as one of the most accessible paths for young people to form a connection with Shakespeare.
What do you think?
Image by Calamity Meg.