Do children have the capacity to understand and be interested in Shakespeare? If you’ve been to one of the shows by KL Shakespeare Players (KLSP), your answer might very well be a resounding, “yes”.
I must admit, I had my hesitations about whether my six-year-old daughter, Sitarey, would enjoy a theatrical performance on Shakespeare, even such a popular one as Romeo and Juliet.
My concerns about keeping my child entertained throughout the two-hour show, however, quickly melted away as soon as we sat in our seats.
It was quite a marvel to see KLSP achieve this feat, with a cast of only three energetic actors, who took on multiple roles and personas, with a few props that also doubled as this or that, every now and then.
One of the most elaborate aspects of the show was the live, 36-piece orchestral music performed by Bentley Music Academy, under the direction of Kevin Field. The orchestra’s flawless music arrangements stood out to me as if they were a fourth cast member, delivering remarkable theatrics. The orchestra’s precision and mastery of their craft added an unparalleled level of professionalism to the performance, leaving a lasting impression on the audience.
Despite a lack of costumes and the barest of props, the trio of actors, comprising KLSP’s co-founder and chief producer, Lim Soon Heng, Nikki Basharudin and Nave VJ, actively engaged audiences with a lively actor-spectator relationship.
The fourth wall was frequently broken, as audiences were flung questions, taught simple musical steps and roped into the narration.
For me, as an adult, the delivery was refreshingly light albeit unusual for a delivery of Shakespeare, which my mind conjures renditions of heavy literature that is not immediately comprehensible.
I personally only learnt the names of a few other characters in Romeo and Juliet through KLSP’s performance of Shakespeare’s famous work. As ashamed as I am to admit it, I’m sure, many like me, had only known of the titular characters in the well-known lovers’ tragedy.
As for Sitarey, she enjoyed being able to answer some of the questions that was asked to further the narrative of the plot.
She also enjoyed the acting and felt inspired to be similarly on stage.
“I felt like I wanted to be in the show and play pretend with the actors. I liked Romeo’s best friend, Mercutio, because he liked to prank Romeo and was tickling Romeo with a rose,” said Sitarey, when asked what she enjoyed most about the show.
There were moments, the pompous adult in me wished the cast had worn more elaborate costumes or enlisted the use of more realistic props, perhaps even decorated the stage more, but as I sat there, next to my enthralled six-year-old, I realised that children were not too bothered by such details.
For them, the story and characters mattered more, and so the tale that Shakespeare spun took centre stage better than any other fanfare that it could be associated with. I was amazed to observe that even children as young as six were able to comprehend and remain engaged with the complex story, thanks to the simplicity of the performance.
As I looked around, I noticed that some parents had brought their toddlers to the show. The sing-along activities and the cast’s movement throughout the hall helped to maintain the attention of even the youngest children. I believe that this style of theatre, which was popularized by German playwright and theatre practitioner Bertolt Brecht in the 1930s, is well-suited as an introductory experience for all children, and even adults who are interested in learning more about Shakespeare’s works but may prefer a lighter take on the antiquated Old English versions.
Although the narration did not strictly follow Shakespeare’s original text, the fundamental elements of his storytelling, including the plot, characters, and drama, were all preserved. The actors conveyed these elements in a straightforward yet relatable manner, incorporating one or two modern references and implications.
After the show, I wondered if Sitarey might have been disturbed by the darker themes of death, murder and suicide in Romeo and Juliet. She told me that while she was surprised by the violent aspects, she was not scared by them.
“Killing is bad. I liked the marriage and love part more,” she said.
In the end, the session also turned out to be a bonding session for me and Sitarey, as we practiced the dance steps we had learnt from the show.
If you’ve never seen a show by the KL Shakespeare Players, I would recommend for you to do so. They have two upcoming productions, SD:Macbeth, set to play at Pentas 2, KLPAC on 18 and 19 March. A Hen-Made Tale, the Musical will run between 29th March and 1st April, 2023 at PJ PAC.
All images supplied by KLSP’s Lim Soon Heng.