BTS's director, Miles Gregory, says that Shakespeare should be fun, fast and furious. He castigates the traditional approach to the texts and adds that there's nothing better than a boozy audience - which makes it strange that the Shaw Theatre bar stays firmly closed before this production. A pity, as the audience surely needed something to deaden the effect of one of the most witless Shakespearean productions I have ever seen.
Most theatregoers are happy to accept that the bard's text can be tampered with, most are happy to accept modern dress productions, and most think it's entirely laudable that new companies should try to attract new audiences. What is surely unacceptable is cutting the play savagely and unnecessarily. By reducing the running time to just over two hours, it may be easier on our attention span, but a great deal of the impact is lost. And why does Gregory change the text to make Juliet 16 years old? Does he really believe that the implications of pedophilia are too much for modern audiences to handle?
By all means, let's bring a new generation to Shakespeare, but don't insult that generation's intelligence by assuming they're unable to understand the tragic ramifications of Romeo and Juliet's passion and its ultimate hopelessness. Equally, don't make the mistake of equating 'accessible' with comic. That's not an easy out; as any successful comedian will tell you, comedy is one of the hardest skills of all.
Comic timing and pitch is clearly beyond the ability of this young cast. Although, to be the fair, the size of the Shaw stage doesn't help this low-budget production, which surely needs a more intimate surrounding.
And yet it all starts so promisingly when the chorus' address is rudely interrupted by a fracas from the audience as a brawl starts in the stalls. It's a brave opening gambit, but it slides quickly downhill from there in a desperate quest for cheap laughs. Many of the problems derive from Tobias Beer's over-the-top nurse, making his early bid for a Christmas appearance as a pantomime dame.
Mike Rogers'clearly-spoken and dignified Romeo rises above the morass. And I'd like to have seen more of Tom Mallaburn's quietly sinister Tybalt. Lucia Latimer's Juliet looks distinctly unhappy however, and races through her lines as if she can't wait to be somewhere else - and who can blame her?
Shakespeare's texts aren't museum pieces. While it's good that young companies are prepared to take on the likes of the RSC and the traditionalists, this is not the way to do it. The whole evening has the air of an undergraduate revue: it might have made a good skit but, as a portrayal of one of the great tragedies of literature, it leaves too much to be desired.