BNN Today, a programme on the news channel on Dutch radio, has asked me to appear in their show tomorrow evening to talk about Shakespeare. This theatre season offers no less than 5 productions of Romeo and Juliet, which is unusual. One of them, by Het Nationale Toneel, opens tomorrow in The Hague. BNN wants to know all about the play and why it is still so popular.
I think I will first talk about the play itself, about the conflict between love and the pressures of family and society, and about the wonderful ways in which Shakespeare’s language expresses that conflict. Then I think I cannot resist to point out that although the play is often called timeless, Shakespeare’s version of the story is very much a product of sixteenth-century English culture, its gender norms, its ideas about marriage and revenge. Even if the love story seems universal, each production does situate the play in a different cultural context, whether it is 1950s New York, twentieth-century Verona Beach or a post 9/11 Amsterdam where a Turkish pizza-delivery boy falls in love with a Dutch hockey girl, as in Theo van Gogh’s television series Najib en Julia. If I have not been cut off by then, I could also point out that the notion of romantic love is also a product of early modern culture, as Catherine Belsey emphasizes in Shakespeare & the Loss of Eden.
The interesting thing about Dutch productions in the current season is that some of them explicitly set the play in a modern context: ZEP theatre with Rome en Juli’s Posse situated it amongst street slang and hip hop, turning Romeo into a player (review on 8Weekly); RO Theater presented an urban version that sought to unite the love story with the raw side of Rotterdam as a city. Other productions, such as that by REP Theater based on Joe Calarco’s adaptation and played by five men, shied away from street language and requested a translation that was “real Shakespeare.” Frank Albers’ translation for Nationaal Toneel also does not “go ethnic” as he puts it, but aims to be more poetic and literary than other contemporary Dutch translations (translators interviewed by Karin Veraart in the Volkskrant). Het Nationale Toneel’s website also does not provide any hints of a contemporary context — its text focuses on the mystery of unconditional love. Their poster mainly triggered my interest in the mystery of the black shoe – is this a family member barging in, the way the nurse interrupts Romeo and Juliet’s first romantic sonnets-in-dialogue in Shakespeare’s text?
This is my very first time on the radio, so apart from focusing on the play I also surfed the web today to find some helpful sites on doing radio interviews. Here’s are some of the things I found:
- Media tips for academics at Flagler College
- the University of Stirling
- and at Queen’s University
- The National Academy of Engineering looks on the bright side: “Maintain the thought that working with the media is a good thing, as opposed to it being a hassle or a confrontation…”
More tips are welcome!