Children today ‘demonised’ for doing as Shakespeare did 400 years ago, director says

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Young people today are demonised for being “too colloquial” with language, despite William Shakespeare being praised for doing the same thing 400 years ago, a theatre director has said.

Intermission Youth Theatre combines 400-year-old language with the modern day, remixing the bard’s work through the lens of youth culture.

This year it celebrated 15 years with a rendition of Taming Of The Shrew, re-titled Taming Who?

The fast-paced Shakespeare remix interweaves old verses with new dialogue to give fresh relevance to the Bard’s original.

The adaptation challenges gender stereotypes and explores identity and coming of age.

Tre Medley played the role of Hortensio, who helps devise a plan for the lead character, Petruchio, to find a wife in order to avoid returning to Nigeria to live with his newly widowed mother.

“Working with Shakespeare and the modern language, being able to adapt such an old text which was done so long ago and then being able to have it modernised in a play set in 2023 is really exciting,” he told Sky News during a break in rehearsals.

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Mr Medley says being among black actors is especially important.

The Nigerian mother is played by Morenike Onajobi, who also assisted in directing the play.

“Intermission Youth brings a huge diverse audience because we have a diverse cast,” she said.

“Having people put their time into coming in and spending an evening is great. Coming to the theatre is not typical within our community in general so being able to put on a show that our community want to see, can understand and relate to, is really important.”

Ophelia-J Wisdom and Kai Jerdioui in Taming Who? Pic: Lidia Crisafulli
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Ophelia-J Wisdom and Kai Jerdioui in Taming Who? Pic: Lidia Crisafulli

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Darren Raymond, artistic director and playwright, explains young people are as innovative in English language as Shakespeare himself.

“I think our young people are creatives in themselves,” he told Sky News.

“They’re always creating new words like Shakespeare did, but the difference is, they’re demonised for it. They’re accused of destroying the English language – it’s too colloquial, ignorant, all these kinds of things – but they revere a writer who did that 400 years ago and they put him on a pedestal.”

Morenike Onajobi, who plays Mum in Taming Who? Pic: Lidia Crisafulli
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Morenike Onajobi, who plays Mum in Taming Who? Pic: Lidia Crisafulli

The production was directed by Stevie Basaula, best known for his roles in EastEnders as Isaac Baptiste, and Sky’s Bulletproof.

Basaula is also an Intermission Youth Theatre alumnus, and said young people were at the heart of the project.

“It’s a real 360 moment directing the same piece that I explored as a young and inexperienced actor, nervously but eagerly making my stage debut almost 10 years ago.

“So much has changed for me since then, but sadly, so much of the themes Shakespeare aimed to tackle remain the same. I look forward to finding new ways to address but honour his problematic classic in my directorial debut.”

SianLeigh Moore, Sara Mokonen and Megan Samuel in Taming Who? Pic: Lidia Crisafulli
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SianLeigh Moore, Sara Mokonen and Megan Samuel in Taming Who? Pic: Lidia Crisafulli

Taming Who? forms part of Intermission Youth’s 15-year anniversary season of work. Since its inception in 2008, the organisation has been creating reimagined Shakespeare plays using theatre and exploring the Bard’s work to engage young, marginalised people lacking in opportunity.

The annual 10-month drama training programme (IYT) which culminates in a fully realised stage production, performed by a cohort of young people, was also part of this year’s anniversary season at the Arcola Theatre.

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