BY SALLY CLINE
Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet is an ideal choice for an ITV Schools broadcast Drama production.
Young people will naturally sympathise with the story and the characters, so the play is an easy introduction to England's greatest playwright.
The first part of this five-part production is on Tuesday.
The story is well known... a feud between two aristocratic Italian families, the Montagues and the Capulets, in 14th century Verona... Romeo, aged 16, falls in love with 14-year-old Juliet, the daughter of his father's enemy... and only a tragic end for the young lovers rings peace between the warring families.
"This conflict between young love and parental authority is noticeable today," said the producer, Prudence Nesbitt. "We hope that the children will be able to appreciate Shakespeare by relating the play to present-day problems.
"It has remained continuously in the repertory of English theatre since 1596 and was adapted into modern terms in West Side Story with the setting in 20tn century New York instead of 14th century Verona."
Prudence Nesbitt, who produced Hamlet for last year's Schools Broadcast Drama, has deliberately cast this year's play young.
"There is a lot of inborn resistance to the sound of Shakespeare in many schoolchildren." she said. "We hope to combat this by playing the emphasis on youth, and by making the street fights and danger scenes exciting."
Juliet is played by 16-year-old Jane Asher, Romeo by 22-year.old David weston and Mercutio, Romeo's vlosest friend, by Rick Jones, aCanadian in his early 20's.
Jane has the distinction of being one of the youngest actresses to play Juliet professionally. this is her first attempt at Shakespeare.
"It is my first verse-speaking part," she told me at her home in Wimpole Street, London.
"It is difficult to speak verse well if you are without a great deal of experience. Several times I have to make a choice between poetry and the character in cting the part. Sometimes the sound wins, sometimes the fury."
This shy, self-controlled 16-year-old is training to be a hairdresser. "It is bound to come in useful during one of those bouts of resting all actresses are subject to," she said.
She has strong family attachments. She spends her holidays sailing or in the country with her parents, and has no desire to live away from home.
It was her mother who first encouraged her talent at five and took her to an agent. That year she appeared in the film Mandy, and by the time she was 12 she had appeared in five more films.
Recently she has had large parts in two films, last year she was the youngest-ever Wendy in Peter Pan on the London stage and she has become increasingly well-known for roles in plays and serials of television. Juliet is her biggest television part so far.
David Weston has strong views on his role. "To me," he said, "Romeo is not the soft, romantic idealist he is played as so frequently, but a fun-loving, yet sensitive, fellow.
"I imagine him as gay and high-spirited,a dominant personality with deep feelings."
Davif played Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet in his first year at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. "And as far back as I can remember at school we all acted in Shakespeare's plays," he said. "Mainly because Michael Croft, who founded the National Youth Theatre, was my English master and form teacher.
"I was always keen to play Romeo. I used to think my looks were against me, as Romeo is unusually dark and I have fair brown hair and pale skin, but in this production Juliet is fair as well, and it doesn't seem to matter.
"I am glad we are playing to such a young audience, because I feel one of the best ways to break down the barrier towards Shakespeare is for children to see his plays."
|Jane Asher... she is 16|
Found via Tim Worthington Twitter.