Since Monday the lives on many Twitter users has been taken over by the new soap opera in town. Such Tweet Sorrow is a new project between Mudlark and the Royal Shakespeare Company which charts the story of Romeo and Juliet over the course of five weeks through the medium of Twitter. Already we have experienced the highs and lows of Montague and Capulet life. Tybalt has been expelled from school for dealing whilst Mercutio has woken up most mornings to a different woman in his bed. At last, it seems, Shakespeare for the masses. On close inspection, however, everything may not be as we first think.
It must firstly be acknowledged that this really is a revolutionary project. Never has Shakespeare’s best-known story been told in this way and to such a large number of people at the same time. It also breaks the boundaries of theatre, for we are able to interact and create dialogue with the characters if we choose. Along with these two aspects, Shakespeare is brought well and truly into the 21st Century. While Baz Luhrmann introduced Romeo, Juliet and Co. to cars, mobiles and guns on the big screen, his characters still seemed to have odd sensibilities and rules, being taken directly from the Shakespearean original. The cast of Such Tweet Sorrow, however, act just like other young people in the information age.
Herein, however, lies the problem. Potentially. We have to ask ourselves whether or not this would actually get people interested in Shakespeare. ‘Romeo and Juliet’ is the one play of Shakespeare which everyone with even half an ounce of knowledge knows about. It is taught worldwide and has seen countless retellings and reinterpretations. Everyone knows that the couple is doomed and yet still it is thrilling with every reading or showing. It appeals to everyone and anyone, no matter how young or old. For this reason, it can be argued that even if people uninterested in Shakespeare follow Such Tweet Sorrow avidly, they are unlikely to actively seek information on more of the Bard’s work or book tickets to see different plays.
Even if this were not true and it did encourage more Twitterers to watch Shakespeare, we must look at the demographic of Twitter users. A large proportion of people who use Twitter have something to sell, whether that be a product, themselves or their art, which suggests that many people on the micro-blogging site are creatives anyway. It is these people who are likely to follow @Such_Tweet and although others will still follow the story, it is probably those already au fait with the story and Shakespeare’s work who make up a large section of its followers. It is also likely that these people are the ones who will get the most out of it, as if members of a secret club who understand it more than everyone else. If you already know what to expect, then the anticipation is found in wondering what the interpretation will be.
We also have to ask ourselves whether or not this is really Shakespeare. After all, Bill in fact copied most of his stories from other sources and so all that is truly his is the language of the plays. Considering the language of this interpretation is Twitter-speak, then we are in fact getting rid of the most important part of the Swan of Avon’s work. There will be no beautiful quotes to speak of such as “it is the East and Juliet is the sun” which evokes so much emotion in the original play. All we have is the bare bones of what Shakespeare wrote – character and plot.
That said, however, Such Tweet Sorrow is a fun, involving, addictive piece of ‘theatre’. Over the next five weeks much of the Twitter population will be following the Montague’s and Capulet’s every move. And even though we know the ending, there is no doubt that we will be taken on a rollercoaster ride of emotion and leave feeling well and truly exhausted.