The Brunel Drama Society were asked to perform a play in December 2012 for an Arts evening at Brunel University. It would be our first ever big production, so we decided that we wanted to write and devise our own original piece from the get-go. At the time, there were about twenty or so members of the society who showed a keen interest in getting involved – whether it was writing, acting, directing or stage managing. Danny Kent expressed his interest in directing, and we soon had a team of about seven writers ready to get started.
At first, writing was quite a slow process. Due to the piece being performed in December at an, ultimately, Christmas-party evening, we thought it best to devise a piece with a festive theme. However, after several ideas were thrown around we soon realised that devising a piece from scratch using all of the actors that wanted to get involved, and in the limited time period that we had, would prove quite difficult. Instead of creating a whole new piece, we thought it best to adapt a different well known play.
Naturally, Shakespeare was one of the first playwrights we went to. Whilst adapting Shakespeare is not particularly original, we weighed out the pros and cons and concluded that it would be better to adapt a play that a lot of people had heard of and knew, rather than a lesser known one. We knew that we wanted the play to be a light hearted comedy, and thought about just putting on our own version of Twelfth Night, before eventually settling on the idea of completely rewriting Romeo and Juliet. The decision for this was twofold: firstly, more people would know Romeo and Juliet over Twelfth Night, and secondly, we were still holding on to the idea of performing a somewhat original piece; why not rewrite Shakespeare’s classic tragedy as a comedy?
The first few writing sessions were essentially the writers deciding what loose archetypes the main characters would follow. From the start, we knew that we wanted Romeo to be portrayed as pathetic poet, whose mind is filled with Romantic ideas of love. To contrast this, Juliet would be completely dead-pan, showing little to no emotion with regards to Romeo’s advances. Other big characters included Tybalt, who would be over the top dramatic, and often add in non-English words to his speech, out of context. We had Mercutio as a very dry and sarcastic character, and Benvolio speaking in a language that is reminiscent of Nadsat from Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange. Some of our main influences when writing the piece were classic British comedy troupes such as Monty Python or A Bit of Fry and Laurie, or classic comedy shows like Blackadder, and as such we took various attributes from them, such as the Terry Jones or Hugh Laurie-style man dressed as a woman, in which the audience can quite clearly tell that the character is a man. We used this for the character of Nurse. Paris’ character was based on Rik Mayall’s performance as Flashheart from the Blackadder series, and we decided that the Lords Capulet and Montague would be played by sock puppets controlled by their respective Ladies.
Writing the script itself was a very enjoyable exercise. We would often meet and write in small groups for 4 or 5 hours, and would go away and work on individual scenes, before compiling the final complete draft. We used the basic structure of Romeo and Juliet, but set it in a modern world (the party scene is set in a nightclub) whilst still retaining some archaic aspects (the fights are all fought with swords, for example). The script took about two weeks to write and perfect in total, and was full of quips, wordplay and a bit of on-the-edge comedy. Once the script was finished, and the actors cast, we began rehearsals. Due to the large cast (around 20 people), finding a time that everyone could rehearse proved quite difficult, and a few arguments ensued. Despite this, the director took full control and managed to organise rehearsals efficiently, and a great effort was put in by everyone that was part of it to make the show as successful as it could be. The play got a lot of laughs, and appeared to, overall, be enjoyed by the majority of the audience, even if it was a little non-PC at times. The response we got afterward was wholly positive, with people remarking on the well written script, directing and acting. All in all, this was a challenging but gratifying piece of work, and something that I would hope to revisit in the future with upcoming Drama Society performances.