Romeo and Juliet: Edinburgh Preview

ELOISE DAVIES talks to director Matilda Wnek about her hip, drug-guzzling modern adaptation of the Bard’s classic love story.

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You’ve taken on and reworked a classic… what inspired it? What do you want to say that is different to the original? Are you worried about there being comparison/disappointment?

Anyone coming to compare our adaptation to Shakespeare will surely be disappointed, and I’d certainly be worried for those people yes. But for everyone coming to see an adaptation, I hope they will find we have something very different to say from the classic.

What inspired the project, back in 2013, was asking: ‘What’s so special about Romeo and Juliet?’ ‘What have they got that I don’t?’ We think it’s their readiness to stake everything on their relationship, to make love the whole content of their lives.

Juliet is easier to understand: she’s lived a very unexciting short life before she meets Romeo, but Romeo’s got Rosaline, and at the start of the play he discourses on love like he’s pretty sure he knows what it is.

What’s exceptional about the character is how ready he is to be surprised by Juliet into a complete transformation, and that, we conjecture, is the most anachronistic thing about the story.

How do you think a modern tragedy differs to an ancient/renaissance one? Is there a risk that in becoming more “everyday” and familiar, or mixed with comedy, all tragic grandeur is lost?

Thankfully, it’s not tragic grandeur we’re after. Strictly speaking (anyone not taking the Tragedy Paper look away now) this adaptation is definitively anti-tragic.

Hegel says that tragic conflict has to be external to the heroes themselves, and any play that stages the fight between competing values within individuals is undramatic, and achieves nothing more than to show that people are generally indecisive.

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Except we reckon that that truth might possibly be the key to some pretty interesting questions about what it’s like to be our age right now.

By removing the warring families we give Hegel a good grave-spin and locate the tragic conflict within the characters of Romeo and Juliet, making for something deeply sad, and actually more mercilessly harrowing to watch, but unfortunately not that heroic. And—or so we claim—in that way more modern.

Which updated character has been the most interesting to develop?

Romeo. Our actor is exceptional and the character undergoes some serious flagellation at her hands.

I take it you’ve been to Edinburgh before? Has your previous experience inspired any aspects of this performance?

Strangely, no. I’ve never done a straight show, or worked at C Venues, and in truth I’ve always looked rather pityingly on the multitude of student Shakespeare productions, and wondered who their audience is. I hope that our publicity is good enough to persuade a spectrum of people to give us a try.

As the only female member of Footlights last year, do you think anything should/could be changed about the Cambridge theatre scene to give it a better gender balance?

Compulsory randomized sex changes upon entry to committee.

What else will you be aiming to see if you get the chance at the Fringe?

I’d be an idiot to miss Sheeps, John Kearns, or Ellie White, and I’m doing a show called ‘BEARD II’ at the Kilderkin for free. We missed the program deadline so this shameless plug is less scandalous than it looks.

The show opens on Sunday.