A Bengali Romeo

17th April 2009 | Musings | 0 comments

We went to the Tara Arts Centre in Wandsworth to see ‘People’s Romeo’, a delightful cross-cultural production re-telling Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ in a simplified form, as might be used by travelling actors in a Bengali market-place. The performance took place in a tiny dark studio. Three musicians, playing Indian instruments, also danced and played minor parts; Romeo was played by Delwar Hossain speaking Bengali, and Juliet was played by Aimee Parkes speaking English. The production began and ended with cheerful Bengali songs and dances, framing the sad story in a gentle unthreatening way.

It was fascinating to see a multi-lingual production, with Romeo addressing Juliet in one language, and her answering in another. Obviously some of the text was lost to us, but in the opening scenes, where the Montagues and Capulets are embroiled in their feud, the use of two mutually incomprehensible languages actually seemed to give the story an extra dimension. It was easy to grasp the idea that communication had broken down between the two families. The effect had rather worn off, however, by the closing scene, where I could hardly stand to hear the dying lovers’ words of endearment in two different languages. It seemed wrong that all their troubles had not demolished the language barrier. As Juliet knelt over Romeo’s body I felt like saying, ‘Please, please, stop speaking English to him!’

On the way out, we complimented the organisers and asked if they had had funding for this performance. They replied that the recession had come early for them when they lost half of their grant last year. Moreover, their policy of letting Under-26’s in free meant that they had made no money from that sector of the audience, which was the majority. The actors, who had been rehearsing intensively for three weeks, were ‘doing it for their train fares’. It made us feel slightly sick when we thought in comparison of all the money that has been lavished on the ailing financial sector recently.

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