Shakespeare for the '90s


Class Culture — A Play We Wrote
Written and directed by Tim Brain and Paul Tassone
Reviewed by Rurik Davidson

Class Culture is about young people rehearsing a play — Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet — and doing it their way. They have arguments about whether to do it in old or modern English. They dance, they sing, they make jokes and act the parts of their alter egos. The young cast acted this out with great vitality and humour.

But the play also covers important issues concerning young people — racism, sexuality, parental pressure, drug and alcohol abuse. Some of these are raised in Shakespeare's original text. But the writers of Class Culture have written a play relevant to Australia in the '90s.

The plot follows, more or less, the original story-line: young Romeo meets Juliet at a Blue Light Disco (not that he normally goes! He was er ... just picking up his little sister of course!) and nervously follows her to her parents' block of flats.

Remember the famous balcony scene? Romeo and Juliet fall in love. But there is a hitch. Juliet's parents have already arranged for her to marry a doctor. Parent hassles! And, before she and Romeo can run away together (escaping on Romeo's motorbike) this marriage is put forward!

But this is only the rehearsal. The "actor characters" break for relevant comments.

Then comes the problem — in the original Romeo and Juliet both commit suicide — and to quote one of the characters, "I mean, it is a bit of a downer, isn't it?" And so a solution is found — instead of killing themselves, Romeo and Juliet talk it out with the "olds".

The fact that the play comes across as both tasteful and funny is almost certainly due to the process of collectively writing the script. Project coordinator Jean Westerhout says:

"The issues were identified after we did some research with youth workers and government department people and young people generally as being the most important issues for them ... We sat together with the cast members, told them what the issues were that we had found through our research and found out how they felt about it. So a lot of the words that you hear in the

play are actual quotes from the cast members. So they feel very comfortable about dealing with the issues because they relate directly to them. The way they're being portrayed on stage is how they would talk about it in their homes, or on the streets, or at parties with their friends."

Westerhout thinks that the most important thing that the play can do is to make one "think about the problems that young people are facing today. For young people, I think the important thing is for them to understand that there are alternatives ... to drugs or taking your life even, and hopefully give them the message of ways to deal with these problems — how to deal with racism, how to deal with parental pressure.

"Drugs and alcohol abuse I think is a long standing issue with young people. Especially now with the level of unemployment, people are turning to more drink, more cigarettes, more drugs. What we're trying to do in our play is give them a message of hope."

Class Culture was sponsored by the Multicultural Arts Centre of WA for a short season at the Playhouse Theatre in Perth. It may be performed in Adelaide next year.