By Thom Dibdin
Romeo and Juliet is being brought into the social media revolution in a brave new experiment from the Royal Shakespeare Company called Such Tweet Sorrow.
Directed by Roxana Silbert – one-time Literary Director at the Traverse in Edinburgh and most recently artistic director at Paines Plough – the “production” will be played out on Twitter and other social media in real time, over the next five weeks.
The production will be performed by six Twitter characters – Juliet Capulet, her sister Jess and brother Tybalt, Romeo Montague, his best mate Mercutio and Friar Laurence. As the action unfolds online, the cast will improvise the dialogue between themselves and engage with each other and their virtual audience communicating via their tweets.
To be honest, this seems like a brilliant idea. So much so that I’ve spent the day looking at the different tweets, following the characters, finding new ones – who is this jago-klepto? – checking out Juliet’s You Tube video and debating whether this really is theatre.
When I first started following the different characters this morning, they had about 60 or so followers. As I write this, Juliet – julietcap16 – has 1,884 followers.
So this is certainly a great marketing ploy then. And given the way that Juliet – in particular – is interacting with her followers, it certainly has, as my news editor at The Stage Alistair Smith pointed out, a strong element of the role playing game.
The question is whether it will sustain over the next five weeks. It should build well in the run up to April 23rd, Juliet’s 16th birthday. But only if actress Charlotte Wakefield can carry out the tricky job of sustaining the role, keeping her followers intrigued and involved, and keeping the rest of us interested.
That also happens to be one William Shakespeare’s birthday and the RSC are promising us a live online event on that day. Which could well be a pain for anyone who has prior arrangements as it is in the following live of such events as Juliet and Romeo’s crucial first meeting – just a guess – that the real pleasure of the production will lie.
It’s all very well picking up Juliet’s character-building tweets with her sister Jess – known as Nurse – about their mother’s favourite music. Or Mercutio’s way with the ladies at the gym. This slow-build stuff can always be picked up later – try following the Romeo Tweets Juliet group if you want to play catch up.
But it is the live element which will differentiate it as theatre. We’ve been promised that real-time events will impinge on the story line – and the mixing in of events like the election should feel a lot less clunky than they do in soaps – which takes it up to base one in terms of liveness. They certainly make it a unique event, changing the way the characters follow their daily schedule from a story grid.
I can’t wait for the big scenes, then, the action, fights, love and misunderstanding which make the play itself compelling, performed live in a manner which should make the viewing of it compelling.
That said, I do feel that this is going to be closest to soap-opera than anything else as it follows the minutia of everyday life for the Montegues and Capulets. Or maybe a reality-tweet show. Not that I care too much, it is already enthralling stuff and I’m looking forward to following the evening tweets at the interval of which ever production I am reviewing.
I’ve been promised a chat with Roxana Silbert tomorrow afternoon and if everything goes according to plan, I hope to file a report from that in the evening.
For more information log on to http://suchtweetsorrow.com/story/