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No glitz, no pop, no special effects - just acting

"ROMEO and Juliet" will be staged in its English original for the first time in 30 years, opening in the city tomorrow. Then "Oliver Twist" will enchant audiences. Michelle Zhang reports.

When most young Chinese think of "Romeo and Juliet," the world's greatest love story, they usually think of the film starring Leonardo DiCaprio, the musical "West Side Story" and touring ballets.

Surprisingly, the play hasn't been performed in the city in its original form for almost 30 years.

It was last staged in 1980, when famed local actor and actress Yu Luosheng and Xi Meijuan played the leading roles. Today they are in their 50s.

Tonight, Britain's TNT Theater will bring this classic back to the stage at Shanghai Drama Arts Center, and director Paul Stebbings aims to present the story in a style that is close to Shakespeare's original.

It will be in English with Chinese subtitles.

There will be no extravagant sets, no popular elements, no lavish costumes. Instead, there will be live music, a small cast and powerful physical performances, as in TNT's previous productions of "Macbeth" and "Hamlet."

This means a modern audience will be able to experience the legendary love story as an Elizabethan audience might have at a London theater some 400 years ago.

Stebbings also wants to rediscover the story - neither as a classical tragedy nor a traditional romance. No violent urban street fights among youths to make it hip and timely.

"In approaching this most famous fiction, a director must take care not to dramatize what the audience thinks 'Romeo and Juliet' should be, but what was written on the page 200 years before Romanticism changed our culture," Stebbings says.

He says the play starts as a comedy and ends a tragedy, a satisfying form of theater.

"It is not a tragedy because the central characters do not suffer from 'hubris,' the fatal flaw that Aristotle defined and Shakespeare elaborated," he continues. "Neither Romeo nor Juliet suffers from Macbeth's ambition or Lear's selfish rage, let alone Othello's jealousy or Hamlet's moral indecision."

It is often surprisingly unromantic, since Romeo and Juliet have only two scenes in the entire long play when they are alive and alone together, as the director points out.

"Love itself is parodied as much as worshipped, and the fullest and most complex characters in the play, Mercutio and the Nurse, are both pragmatists who mock love or treat it as an adjunct of sex," he says.

Not a tragedy, and not so romantic - so what will TNT's reinterpretation of "Romeo and Juliet" be like? You will have to go to the theater to find out.

The Frankfurter Neue Presse described it as "a beautiful, impressive production that reaches the heart of the play," while London's Theater World Magazine acclaimed it as "the most satisfying and revealing current production of Shakespeare's wonderful play."

TNT Theater is no stranger to Shanghai audiences. It made its debut in the city back in 2005 with "Macbeth." Considered as one of the world's foremost touring companies, it has staged more than 1,000 performances in more than 20 countries.

Founded in 1980, the theater began to create and stage the Shakespearean series in 2000, including "Macbeth," "A Midsummer Night's Dream," "Hamlet," "King Lear" and "The Taming of the Shrew."

TNT's plays are noted for the music and dance elements. Top-notch composers create scores for each play. Various art forms are blended into the plays.

Its unique approach to Dickens' masterpiece "Oliver Twist" has proved to be a great success in China with sell-out shows in 2007.

This time, it will restage "Oliver Twist" for another round of six performances.

"Romeo and Juliet"

Date: April 14-25 (closed on Mondays), 7:30pm

"Oliver Twist"

Date: April 27-May 2, 7:30pm

Address: 288 Anfu Rd

Tickets: 100-500 yuan

Tel: 6473-0123


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