On first impression it’s easy to think that steampunk and Shakespeare are an unlikely match. Can you tell us more about your inspiration for combining the two?
I wanted to set the show in a “nowhere land” for various reasons, one being budget constraints. I also realised that there would be no way for us to recreate Verona on stage and I didn’t really want to either since it has been done so many times. Steampunk, [which is] futuristic [and] Victorian, seemed like the perfect solution: a nowhere, in-between world that doesn’t really exist.

Did the performance require a lot of research into the technicalities of steampunk and Shakespearean productions, or was the marriage of the two more a brainchild of your own creativity?
It was definitely a brainchild of my own creativity and once the idea found purchase we just ran with it. I literally bought 100 kilos of scrap from our local scrap yard, dumped it on the floor and spent a good couple of thousand rand on glue and spray paint. The end result is astounding.

To what degree did you have to deviate from the original Romeo and Juliet script to give this production its own unique personality?
The whole idea behind this production is to make Shakespeare accessible and understandable and the script combines Shakespearian English [and] modern English. The story is pretty much the original Romeo and Juliet, but I do present the audience with modern explanations for Romeo and Juliet’s behaviour and concepts that I believe the younger generation will better relate to. It is by no means a squeaky clean script in terms of language use, though, and there is an interesting and thought provoking twist at the end.

The costumes will no doubt play an important role in defining the steampunk influence. What considerations have you made when choosing your characters’ appearances?
This was a difficult process because although I really wanted every character’s costume to tell a story, we had to consider the weight of the costumes as well as the on-stage, under the lights temperature. As a result, I ended up having to rein my ideas in a little and we settled on more practical costumes for the most part.

Your punchy marketing blurb, “3 days of chaos”, implies a fast paced and action packed performance. Does the production reflect this?
It does to an extent, but there is a fine balance between a fast pace and losing or alienating the audience. For this reason, I have also kept the costume changes to a minimum to allow the audience time to get to know the characters.

Steampunk traditionally incorporates a large industrial or mechanical influence. Has this come through at all in the set design?
Yes and no. At the onset I decided to use digital backdrops instead of building a big set (and budgetary constraints [were] a huge consideration here). After chopping and changing the backdrops for the umpteenth time, I finally settled on eerie “nowhere” places with an abandoned feel that I believe will beautifully support the cast without detracting from the onstage action.

The music selection sounds like it will be both a daring and exciting contemporary addition to the performance. How did you choose the songs?
I am always on the hunt for new music and the fact that my 14 year old daughter and I share a fanatical love of indie music helps a lot. I chose music that embroiders on the story line and songs that “sing” the unspoken things. For instance, at one point Juliet sings Birdy’s “Words as weapons” to her controlling mother and in this moment we get a glimpse into their slightly twisted relationship [that] we wouldn’t otherwise have had, given the pace of the production.

With an admirably “hip” theme and a university venue, do you think your production has the potential to draw a crowd that might otherwise not have visited a theatre?
Absolutely. I do believe there is a gap in the South African market for out-of-the-box productions that not only entertain but educate the younger generation without shoving things down their throat. We all know the Romeo & Juliet story, but many people don’t understand the intricacies and family dynamics. The cast recently watched Baz Luhrmann’s [film] Romeo + Juliet and the teenagers [in the cast] were amazed at how much of the Shakespearean English they now understand perfectly well and without any real effort on their side. And since our schools still teach the works of Shakespeare, I think productions like this one are especially relevant.

 

Image: writersanontaunton.wordpress.com

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