Last year I discovered Manga Shakespeare and bought a couple for the kids as a little experiment. They absolutely loved them, and we’ve since bought more. I figured it a good way for them to grasp the core Shakespearean plots, and then be able to recognise these where they appear elsewhere in art, other literature, films etc. Plus it seemed a gentle introduction into Shakespearean language prior to secondary school study.
Apparently, when these books first came out in 2007 purists were horrified. The Manga versions do use Shakespeare’s text but are abridged – the purists thought this Wrong and that in taking out chunks of text the plays were reduced to mere plots and this, too, was Wrong. Feedback from the Royal Shakespeare Company and schools has been much more positive.
Yesterday we took the kids to the theatre to see Romeo & Juliet – an adult production, not something re-jigged for youngsters – and they were enthralled for two and a half hours… I don’t think Sam leaned back in her seat once – she was on the edge, silent, not taking her eyes off the stage. They absolutely loved it, understood perfectly what was happening and, where the language did fox them, still didn’t feel lost because they knew the story already (though brilliant acting throughout from the Pilot Theatre group clarified even the more obscure segments of Shakespeare’s banter).
At the interval I asked Jess, who re-read the Manga version for about the tenth time last week, what was going to happen in the second half. And she told me, naming characters and their roles in the mess which follows soppy Romeo’s banishment. I could have forgotten I was talking to an eight year old, in fact, had she not added at the end but I don’t think the actress will really kill herself, she’ll just pretend.
I would not have sat through two and a half hours of Shakespeare at eight or eleven years old. I would have hated it, even though I did love the theatre… but not to listen to that sort of hard-to-grasp dialogue. The reason my kids loved it (and now want to go and see Hamlet this summer too!) is purely because they’ve read, and enjoyed, those Manga versions that so horrified the purists.
So, Purists, thy heads are as full of quarells as an egg is full of meat…
(oh, and the Pilot Theatre group is taking Romeo & Juliet to London at the beginning of February – well worth checking out if that’s your neighbourhood)