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Arts Diary: Shakespeare for the shell suit generation; Philip Key reports on efforts to bring the Bard to sceptical pupils.

Byline: Philip Key

IT'S tough, it's gritty, it's modern and street-wise. It also comes from the pen of William Shakespeare.

A new production of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet touring local schools is an updated, urban version of the classic story.

It is also a rare home-produced production from the Chester Gateway which in recent years has concentrated on hosting visiting shows.

It follows the success of the theatre's touring production of Of Mice and Men last year which also had an educational theme with a schools' tour.

Like that show, Romeo and Julietwill be given a staging at the Gateway Theatre itself.

Both shows have been directed by Jim Johnson, the learning and outreach manager at the Gateway.

A qualified teacher who has specialised in drama projects for young people, Johnson is both director and adapter of the production.

It is likely to surprise traditionalists who expect their Shakespeare to be performed in doublet and hose.

The new version has a Romeo and Juliet in trainers and track suits performing on a graffiti-covered stage.

Johnson explains: ``The story is a classic and we utilise the traditional language but by using modern themes and settings we bring the tragedy of star-crossed lovers up to date and tell how love and hate are often just two sides of the same coin.''

It follows on director Baz Luhrmann's highly successful film version of Romeo and Juliet which updated the action to a city run by crime gangs.

In Johnson's version, the two families are battling it out for control of the same Verona housing estate.

The lovers also communicate by mobile phone while fight director Renny Krupinski has designed some hard-edged fight scenes.

An original score has been created by theatre composer Tom Kirkpatrick in his first production for the Gateway.

Romeo is being played by Ben Fairfax, an actor who has worked on projects in France and Sheffield while Juliet is played by recent Arden School of Theatre graduate Rachel Young.

The tour, sponsored by MBNA, will be visiting schools in Liverpool, Wirral, Cheshire North Wales and Blackburn.

It will get a Gateway Theatre production between March 15-19

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Rachel Young and Ben Fairfax perform the death scene in Chester Gateway's gritty Romeo and Juliet
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Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Feb 28, 2005
Words:374
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