If youth is wasted on the young, taking them to watch Shakespeare at the theatre is like escorting a warthog to the opera.
Expecting teenagers to appreciate the glory of the Bard is misty-eyed lunacy which should only really be tolerated in freshly qualified English teachers who haven’t yet had every drop of enthusiasm wrung from their exhausted bodies (ones who haven’t actually taught yet, in other words).
Teenagers hate Shakespeare because he didn’t have a great deal to say about N-Dubz’ latest single or Justin Bieber’s asymmetrical fringe. The only good thing about Shakespeare when you’re doing GCSEs is that he’s not Chaucer.
Aware of the general apathy about one of our country’s greatest exports (second only to Marmite and horse brasses) teachers have apparently been besieging theatre companies and begging them to make Shakespeare more accessible to the youth of today.
Initial plans to hand out tenners after each act to anyone still awake stumbled at the first hurdle when the cast realised they stood to lose at least £30 per performance.
Theatre companies have tried the lot: they’ve incorporated mobile phones and Jeremy Kyle-style roving microphones into Much Ado About Nothing, they’ve used puppets instead of actors (I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: if I was a puppet, I’d do the decent thing and throw myself on the nearest fire) and they’ve even tried performing entire plays in text speak.
I never trust anyone that tries to update Shakespeare for the kids. Give them an inch and they’ll be setting Pride and Prejudice to some hard house beats or approaching Peppa Pig to present Milton’s Lost Paradise in a bubble wrap bikini.
That said, there is great comedic value in watching theatre companies valiantly try to make the Bard ‘relevant’ to the youth of today – especially when those attempts include interaction.
I remember hearing about one Shakespeare performance where the cast encouraged teenagers to text their questions about England’s literary treasure to a big screen that projected them to the rest of the room. The texts would, the programme promised, ‘affect the performance’.
Around five per cent of the audience sent pertinent questions about Shakespeare’s imagery and motivation, the other 95 per cent texted: ‘SHAKESPIER U R GAY ROFL’ or some similar permutation.
The texts did indeed ‘affect the performance’, halting the text facility within 10 minutes of the first act.
In the 1600s, the height of modernity was going to the toilet in a bucket rather than simply sticking your backside out of a window.
Anyone attempting to “interact” with the performers at the theatre would have been stoned to death in the interval. Suggesting that one day people might be able to send messages to each other through the air without strapping a scroll to a pigeon would have led to a witch hunt and a subsequent barbecuing on the village green.
When I was at school I attended an avant-garde (longhand for ‘crap’) production of Richard III which was set in the Second World War and had the eponymous Richard dressed as if he were Hitler.
The novelty value of seeing Richard III with a toothbrush moustache lasted for around four minutes. The play lasted for four-and-a-half hours – it was like watching Dad’s Army: The Needlessly Aggressive Years on a continual loop.
All the above is a lengthy preamble to the latest misfortune to strike the house of WIB: my daughter has been told that she faces Shakespeare in her English lessons soon and has reacted with the same enthusiasm I’d expect her to show for deep root canal work.
Of course, I’ve droned my way through the timeworn ‘Shakespeare is good, honest’ excuses, but none of them will wash if they throw her in at the deep end with something impenetrably dull like Julius Caesar.
Introducing children to Shakespeare with Julius Caesar is like introducing someone to rock music by playing them Marillion instead of the Beatles, the Stones and The Who.
You can promise them that things are going to get better, but by that stage, Caesar or Marillion will have put them off for life.
So I’m changing my tack and trying to present Shakespeare to my daughter in a modern way that won’t alienate her before she’s appreciated the joy of the Shakespeare plays that aren’t really dull. That 17th century version of Taggart, for example.
I’m going to channel the Inbetweeners and tell her that Shakespeare is a short cut to hundreds of Elizabethan slang words for reproductive organs and bodily functions and that pages of windbagging ‘thines’ and ‘wouldsts’ is compensated for by whole sections of ‘Gadzooks, M’Lady, canst I squint at thy chuff?’ comedy gold.
The great genius of Shakespeare, I will tell her, is his mastery of the English language, his artist’s eye for detail and his unfailing ability to slip a willy joke into absolutely any situation.
If that doesn’t do it, I’ll threaten her with Geoffrey Chaucer. Now he really was, in the words of Shakespeare, a total poperin pear.
* I have a new fridge since that picture was taken. It seemed more sensible than trying to clean it.