Hi, I’m Sophie from the RSC Education Department, on stage at the Swan Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon. On 21 November you’re going to be watching the Schools’ Broadcast of Romeo and Juliet. In this film I’m going to share with you some of the choices that we’ve made in this production and introduce you to some of the key characters and moments at the start of the play to look out for. The set has a very contemporary feel. Even though this is a world where there are no mobile phones and no cameras the set is a place that feels very like our world today. It is a violent world, where swords and knives are used rather than guns. It is simple and sparse and the characters come on and create the scenes we see. Erica Whyman, the director, believes that even though this play was written 400 years ago it feels as if Shakespeare has written it right now, about our world. There are things in this play that are timeless. Young people falling in love, violence, not just wars, but knife violence on the streets. Shakespeare writes about why violence happens and shows how a devastating love story is a revolutionary answer. He writes about how young people often don’t feel listened to by the adults in their lives or by people in power, something that might resonate with some of you today. Romeo and Juliet is a play about young people and how they are making brave choices that could change the course of their society Therefore, it felt right to invite the very youngest voices of our audience on to the stage and perform the prologue The prologue tells us the story of the play that there are two households, both alike in dignity. The Montagues, including Romeo and his cousin Benvolio and the Capulets, the family of Juliet and her cousin Tybalt. The play is set in Verona, a hot Mediterranean city where tempers are running high. For years these two families have been at war and have held an ancient grudge. We learn that a pair of star-crossed lovers are born and Romeo and Juliet are fated to fall in love with each other but it’s doomed. We hear about their death before the play has even begun. Before you watch the broadcast think about why Shakespeare has chosen to tell us the ending. What effect does that have on us? The play then opens with a fight between the families. The citizens of Verona have been told to keep the peace and they are failing. Tybalt arrives and things get worse. He says, ‘As I hate all hell, Montagues and thee’ The fight escalates until there is a huge street brawl. Already Verona is unstable and has been for many years. The fight is eventually stopped with Prince Escalus saying ‘Throw your mistempered weapons to the ground.’ The prince is so angry and proclaims that if there is another fight the Montagues and Capulets shall pay the forfeit for it with their lives. Erica wanted to reflect society by having a cast that is a mixture of ages, accents, races and genders. You’ll see, therefore, women playing parts that are traditionally played by men notably Prince Escalus and Mercutio. At the end of the fight Lord and Lady Montague talk to Benvolio about their son, Romeo, who has been missing all day. Romeo Montague is played by Bally Gill. He is an only child of Lord and Lady Montague. At the start of the play we find out he has been rejected by Rosaline, and is trying to deal with that rejection. Watch out for Romeo’s first entrance with his cousin Benvolio and how many times they mention the word ‘love’. Juliet Capulet is also an only child of Lord and Lady Capulet. She is thirteen years old. Even though she lives in this violent world she is kept safe by her parents and her nurse. Juliet’s nurse is trusted by the Capulets, particularly by Juliet, who confides in her. Karen Fishwick, who plays Juliet, believes she doesn’t have very many friends, and is therefore a bit of a daydreamer, a problem-solver. Juliet has been promised in marriage to a count called Paris. Paris is from the house of Escalus, neither a Montague or a Capulet Lord Capulet throws a ball for Juliet to meet Paris. Romeo and Benvolio find out about it and that Rosaline is one of the guests. They decide to go. On the way to the ball, Romeo tells us he has had an ominous dream, saying ‘For my mind misgives some consequence yet hanging in the stars, of untimely death.’ This appears to tell the future. Mercutio tries to convince Romeo that dreams are meaningless in the famous Queen Mab speech, saying ‘True, I talk of dreams, which is as thin of substance as the air.’ In this production Mercutio is also played by a woman and she will not be underestimated by the men in her life. Mercutio is also from the house of Escalus and Charlotte Josephine, who plays Mercutio, describes her as ‘an honest, raw, messy human, an adrenaline junkie.’ As a class, you might want to discuss what you think about Mercutio being a woman. Does this challenge your thoughts on the character? At the party, Tybalt sees Romeo and is offended by his presence, claiming ‘I’ll not endure him.’ Lord Capulet stops him confronting Romeo, which makes Tybalt feel even angrier, and he vows to seek revenge. Meanwhile, Romeo meets Juliet and they kiss. This is a very private first meeting in a public space. Shakespeare wrote this as a shared sonnet, or poem, with both characters ending each other’s rhyme. By using this language, Shakespeare shows us how instantly in tune they are. They then both find out who the other is and are separated, with Juliet remarking, ‘My only love sprung from my only hate.’ Karen, who plays Juliet, talks about how falling head over heels in love with Romeo, everything moves very fast for both of them. The next key moment I’d like you to look out for is when Romeo climbs in to the Capulets’ garden, with Juliet appearing at her window. Romeo watches her from below and listens as she talks about him. He eventually speaks to her and they declare their love for each other with Juliet asking him for ‘the exchange of thy love’s faithful vow for mine.’ Whilst they are talking, the nurse calls Juliet from inside which hurries their decision to meet the next day and get married. In the next scene we meet Friar Lawrence as Romeo goes to him for permission to marry Juliet. The Friar is a religious man, a friend of Romeo’s and wants peace between the Montagues and Capulets. He agrees to marry them, believing that the marriage might help end the feud between the two families. The impatience of the younger characters throughout this first part is a key factor in things going wrong. Romeo is impatient with the Friar, Juliet with the nurse and Mercutio with Romeo. Before the broadcast think about what does this tell us about the characters’ decision making. How does this affect the plot? I’m going to leave it there for you to think about before joining us at the broadcast. If you want to know more about the play in detail then have a look at our website. There are details about our new Shakespeare Learning Zone. It explores story, setting, language, characters and performance and has different levels for how much detail you’d like to go in to. There’s also an online teachers’ pack. If you have any other questions about the day please contact us at the address shown and let us know about your responses to the questions raised by this film. And do send in any photos of your class. I look forward to seeing you on 21st November at 9am.