Intermission Theatre – until 30 November 2019
Reviewed by Claire Roderick
Intermission Youth Theatre’s contributions to Shakespeare’s Globe’s Sonnet walks and Shakespeare within the Abbey have brought a fresh dynamism to those events and sparked the idea for Excluded. With many of the cast having been excluded from school, and the creeping exclusion of the arts in state education, Darren Raymond’s blending of Shakespeare’s works with modern issues that effect the young people in the cast has created a play that is fiercely funny, gritty and accessible.
The students of William High School are preparing for their GCSEs, but these students are the 15 and 16-year-old modern versions of iconic figures from Shakespeare’s plays. Caesar (charismatic Alexander ‘X’ Lobo Moreno) – the new boy whose cult of personality upsets former top dog Brutus (a beautifully judged performance from Elijah Blunt as he finally succumbs to the masculine stereotype demanded by his negligent father), Bottom (Crerar Antony – a joy to watch) – the drama obsessed extrovert who can’t help interrupting the teacher, Romeo (hilarious Kai Jerdioui) – the ladies’ man who woos new girl Juliet with song lyrics and Shakespeare’s text. Hamlet’s (wonderfully intense Oliver Knight) mental health, grieving for his father and obsessing over his mother’s new relationship, changes from a running joke to a gloriously intense breakdown. Each character is instantly relatable to their adult counterparts in Shakespeare’s plays, but with their attitudes and actions completely at home with their modern situation. Ashley Hodges as teacher Miss Portia shows fantastic depths in her performance as she keeps trying to focus the class and prepare them for life, knowing that the system is failing them all. The ease with which Darren Raymond has slipped these characters into 21st century events without any jarring notes is a testament to his skill as a writer, the young cast’s engaging interpretations and the timeless qualities of the iconic figures. I’ve never felt so sorry for poor Isabel (beautifully understated Rakiya Hasan). Switching between Shakespearean text and modern English could feel awkward in less skilful hands, but the flow of the language feels organic and authentic and is often very funny.
With two casts playing on alternate performances, it would be fascinating to see both to witness the different nuances and relationships between the actors, but whichever cast you see, you are guaranteed an energetic, thoughtful and thoroughly modern take on Shakespeare that leaves you full of hope for the future of the arts in the hands of these inspiring actors.