By Claire Hovey
It’s no surprise that the challenges faced by the arts at the moment are numerous and daunting.
With the country gasping through a particularly brutal tightening of the communal belt, it’s tough for any theatre company to encourage people to dig into their increasingly shallow pockets and step out of the ever-fluctuating weather, into a paying seat.
With the cost of a basic food shop rising and the price of petrol climbing faster than the mud levels at Glastonbury, disposable income is diminishing and entertainment just isn’t a priority.
Given that our nationwide thriftiness has extended beyond our pockets and as far as slashed arts funding , the odds are stacked firmly against successful ventures in theatre.
The theatre scene in Cardiff is alive with companies both amateur and professional producing plays and musicals of every shade with a passion and determination to outlast the recession depression.
And among them, drawing growing audiences back into the pews with fresh interpretations of Shakespearean classics is the Bare Knuckle Theatre Company.
Bare Knuckle Theatre was launched in early 2010 with the purpose of producing exciting renditions of classic plays with all the drama of theatre stripped back, leaving instinctive, sincere acting and a compelling story to tell.
The current production of Romeo and Juliet, running at the Gate Arts Centre on Keppoch Street until Saturday July 2, seeks to invite a mixed audience, from Shakespeare lovers to reluctant, dragged-along partners expecting tights and ‘ay, me’s in boring abundance.
Once in a seat, the objective is to grab the audience’s attention by the scruff of the neck and shake loose some of the preconceptions associated with Shakespeare: There are no fencing foils to be found and not a codpiece in sight.
In an effort to make this production relevant to a modern audience, the scuffle that kicks off the first half has been up-scaled to a full blown riot between Verona’s two leading families and the police.
The Capulet ball, where Romeo firsts meets his Juliet, leans away from polite flirtation and gentle dancing, instead launching feet first into especially composed Irish Ceili that is bound to induce some toe-tapping in the audience.
Original music is a running theme, with Juliet’s funeral accompanied by a haunting Aria, sung live by a company of over thirty mourners.
If it were possible to start a sentence with; ‘The problem with Shakespeare is…’ I would point out the enormous difficulty in drawing an audience in to a story when everybody knows the ending.
But the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet comes from the hopefulness and joy with which their story begins; young lovers elated by affection, later to be destroyed by fate.
The Bare Knuckle approach to tackling this problem is to make sure there’s something for everyone in the telling of this story; some good ol’ fashioned violence for the lads, the infectious energy of a live, Cardiff-based band and original compositions for the music lovers, not forgetting the joys and sorrows of young love for the hopelessly romantic.
Attention firmly grabbed, Bare Knuckle hopes to prove that while the X Factor can pull in huge television audiences based on the temptations of fame and the circus surrounding it, there is simply no substitute for the live performance that can kick you straight in the gut.
And with such a strong Arts ethic in Cardiff, the live experience is right on our doorstep, waiting for us to hit the standby button on the TV.
Romeo and Juliet runs from June 28 – July 02 at the Gate Arts Centre.