Review – Such Tweet Sorrow, Mudlark/RSC

I can’t have been the only person who viewed the launch of Such Tweet Sorrow, a version of Romeo & Juliet told through Twitter, with some scepticism.

Such Tweet Sorrow
The premise is that a cast of actors (led by Charlotte Wakefield of Spring Awakening and James Barrett) perform as the principle characters from Shakespeare’s tragedy over a period of five weeks, communicating this to the audience and each other through the medium of Twitter. The text is improvised by the performers (within a set timeline to ensure they don’t go off track) so Shakespeare’s text is jettisoned except for a few oblique reverences, most of which are about as clever as the pun in the title. This is supplemented by occasional YouTube videos posted by the characters, facebook pages, spotify playlists and the like.

We’re a couple of weeks in to the plot so far and we’re about half way through Act II. @laurencefriar has taken a lot of drugs and organised a ping pong tournament and @tybalt_cap has been suspended from school. More importantly, @romeo_mo has been dumped by Rosaline (who he met on XBox Live while playing Call of Duty) and hooked up with @julietcap16 at her birthday party.

It’s not a completely stupid idea and actually manages to be quite immersive. But in the end, the form doesn’t make sense and, since this project is manifestly about form over substance, this is a fatal flaw.

Drama is inherently dependent on disparities of knowledge – one character knows something that another does not or one character thinks he knows something which the audience knows not to be the case – and Twitter is the antithesis of this. The very premise of Twitter is that everybody should know everything about you, instantly – an environment which is inherently hostile to the development of tension or driving a plot forward. Imagine how different plays would be if there was instant and global reporting of every character’s every thought (RT @ladym: Really hope @macbeth mans up and kills @kingduncan at our castle tonight).

As such, every public communication by these characters feels either banal or forced. Despite the brave efforts of a few celebrities, Twitter is still largely the preserve of geeks and loners. If a teenage couple were busy getting busy, they’d be pretty unlikely to spend their time tweeting about it to an RSC audience instead. And if a girl called Juliet really had fallen in live with the son of her family’s great enemy, it’s pretty unlikely that she would go about telling the whole internet about it.

Romeo & Juliet seems a particularly bad choice of play for this experiment given that the plot development is based almost entirely on miscommunication. Quite how they’re going to orchestrate the final fatal misunderstanding barring a Twitter service outage or Romeo losing signal (does the Capulet tomb have 3G?) is a mystery.

The other problem is just how banal the entire production feels when devoid of he language. My love of Shakespeare may never recover from hearing the immortal line @tybalt_cap: So which one of you muppets stole my sisters cherry then!?!?

When you take away the poetry, the language, the suspense and the characterisation, there’s really not that much left to Romeo & Juliet, and Such Tweet Sorrow ends up as a bright idea, well done – but one that doesn’t really work.