Review – Such Tweet Sorrow Week 2

Apr 25 2010 | By More

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Juliet gets her Romeo

On Twitter

By Thom Dibdin

Love has triumphed over controversy in the second week of Such Tweet Sorrow, the Royal Shakespeare Company’s experimental drama based on a modern version of Romeo and Juliet, but told through Twitter and other social media.

A week which started with the first on-tweet confrontation between the youth of the rival Capulet and Montague clans, ended with Juliet Capulet’s 16th birthday party – and a certain Romeo Montague not leaving until the following morning.

Off-tweet, there was the case of groundlings getting onto the stage, product placement getting into the tweets, and the performers getting right into other forms of social media apart from Twitter. All the while, the tricky question of how much verisimilitude the characters should possess in their use of Twitter itself, rumbled on.

Over the five week experiment, telling the tragedy in real time, there are bound to be points of crisis and resolution behind the scenes. The drama’s first big crisis came to a head over its first weekend with the increasing insinuation of players onto the stage who could, at first glance, be thought to be part of the legitimate cast.

Several tweeters, notably romeo_mon, BenVoli0 and RoSweetie had been tweeting in character, as if they were members of the cast. While RoSweetie’s Rosaline dropped out pretty quickly and romeo_mon just used an early  mistype by genuine cast member Mercuteio as a name and has tweeted successions of mock-profound poems, BenVoli0 was taking a more active role.

From the audience’s point of view, this was great fun. BenVoli0 did sometimes get a little off-kilter but he was often very funny – and was obviously a performer who knew rather less of the script than the real actors, no matter his protestations. And if that wasn’t enough of a warning that he wasn’t on-tweet with the rest, he often tweeted as if he were in Verona. Such Tweet Sorrow is set in an English market town.

While you might want to watch conventional theatre without the distraction of your surrounding audience members interjections, in a performance lasting five weeks their comments and witticisms are going to become part of your appreciation of the performance itself. Indeed, the cast have done away with the fourth wall from the start, asking for comments and suggestions from their followers on twitter, replying in character and even going so far as to invite them down the pub.

The name's Volio. Ben Volio.

Where it got out of hand was the perception from the organisers – who go under the twitter name of @Such Tweet – that people were becoming confused by Mr Volio. They warned off several of those who had mistakenly included him in publicly tweeted lists of players – in fact there are only six players: Juliet, her big sister Jess, their brother Tybalt, Romeo, his best pal Mercutio and Laurance Friar who runs the local internet cafe.

The first intervention seemed a little heavy handed and only fuelled a debate about the role of the audience in the show. Ultimately, however, sense prevailed and the organisers publicly posted a link to information about the “groundlings” – the audience in the cheapest area of the original Globe theatre, who would have heckled the first performances of Romeo and Juliet.

The second crisis point was rather more serious. On the morning of Friday 23rd of April, Juliet got a brand spanking new phone from her dad. Obviously, she just had to tweet all about it – it’s what her character would do. Unfortunately, instead of merely crowing about its attributes, she named it. Later in the day, she also tweeted in fulsome praise of the free twitter facility on the network provider.

Such blatant product placement sticks in the craw – when questioned whether the phone’s makers are sponsors, @Such_Tweet confirmed they are and added that the network providor is too. It detracts from the drama, distracts even, and makes it feel sullied. Commercial sponsorship might be ubiquitous in contemporary theatre, but the sponsors usually make do with a mention in the programme or on the website – not a mention in the dialogue.

What next from the RSC: Perhaps Macbeth will soliloquise: “Is this a Sabatier Chef 8″ which I see before me, the handle toward my hand?”? the next time the Scottish play is staged in Stratford-upon-Avon.

Elsewhere, the experiment’s interactive nature was shown on Monday after the weekly meeting of the cast. There was a visible change in the tweeting of the characters which might have been cooincidental, but which felt as if the various positive suggestions of the way the actors had been tweeting had been listened to.

So what of the drama itself? It has continued to intrigue in just the way that it should – at least on twitter. Isolated from the surrounding noise of a normal twitter feed it feels dry. Like reading a page of dialogue, it needs the surrounding production to bring it to life. Put it within the context of random thoughts and items of news from around the world, however, and it hits just about the right level.

Through the week, the build-up to Juliet’s sixteenth birthday party went well. Juliet and Jess went shopping for masks and we got pictures. Romeo got grounded after fighting Mercutio in the pub car park and spent the time falling for a certain Rosaline, who he played on Xbox Live. We got videos.

It was the party itself which worked, best, however. With a soundtrack orchestrated through online radio sites, the tweeting kept you glued to the computer all evening – not matter the lure of conventional theatre, pub or club – and Juliet got her Romeo. This being the 21st century, it was rather more than a kiss, but that’s fine.

There were the usual weird anomalies of Shakespearian quotes and references coming into the tweets and playlist – Mercutio’s reference to Sonnet 129 being just the most bizarre, if appropriate. In terms of metta-soap, Romeo’s  later mocking mention that he was “twexting” was a direct reference to criticisms of the not-quite-natural tweeting the characters need to take up in order to keep the story flowing.

Have we seen this girl before?

There were glitches. Romeo and Jess used exactly the same photo of Juliet at different times. Photos they had ostensibly taken independently. The music feed wasn’t all it might have been either, as it got out of sync, was changed over the night and didn’t take the online advertising into account.

Overall, however, this was exciting stuff that caught the edge of young love exactly right. A bit too explicitly for some followers, although close reading of the tweets reveals that any x-rated shenanigans went on in their own imaginations, not on-tweet.

By now, the characters of the different players are beginning to take hold and become a bit more complex. But that’s material for a further review. Safe to say, it will be worth reviewing. Just so long as they keep the product placement out.


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Comments (5)

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  1. Karen Johnson says:

    Thom, excellent round up of the 2nd weeks events, interests and concerns. You actually shed light on the tweets re: BenVoli0 – which were enigmatic earlier. (I didn’t realize these people had listed BenVoli0 among the cast.)

    Your review is thorough but tempered, incisive but not damaging. I continue to love the experiment – faults and all. Goodness knows I couldn’t do 1/100th as good a job as the Cast and Crew have done in the previously untilled territory.

    Thanks for your article!

  2. Thom Dibdin says:

    Should have said this is still a four star event – it loses a star for the product placement.

  3. adventuresofamy says:

    you know, tbh, I didn’t actually even notice the “product placement” – I just thought it was a 16yr old girl gushing about her new tech stuff… it’s the same as what I’d do (though I’ve not been 16 for some time), mainly because I don’t have the knowledge needed to say much about it other than what colour it is, and remember the name off the box. It didn’t even occur to me that it was advertising, and I’m not sure whether it was intended to be that way or or not. In this day and age of constant incessant advertising, I completely ignored it anyway, so I’m not sure what the fuss is about – it’s only what you’d find in any modern production of anything. Movies of Shakespeare all include various products, particularly modern-day adaptations (Hamlet, ‘o’, etc). I honestly don’t care, cos I think it’s just a part of how western society functions now, and just like the ads on the tube walls, I go right past them and ignore them.

  4. galify says:

    Great experience but real confusing for twitter neophytes. The tweets are very much in character but having still trouble adjusting to slow-paced feeds and long pauses –mimicking life’s many lulls or precipitous events, no doubt. However, must be a pretty intense weave of audience reactions and feedback from the tweet/act-ers’ vantage point.
    All this bodes well for future productions if people new to Twitter get so easily hooked on this serialized modernization of a still widely-acclaimed répertoire.

  5. dovof says:

    I too am enjoying this experiment and give it four stars. As for the product placement, it doesn’t bother me. I would enjoy it if a Macbeth said, “Is this a Sabatier Chef 8 which I see before me.” I really commend you on that line. The actors are human beings who should not be doing this for free, and if the product placement can be worked in somewhere, why not?

    I disagree when people say the characters are very much in character. Am I reading the same Such Tweet Sorrow as everyone else? I have been leaving a running list of commentaries on Twitter just because I enjoy the interaction with the characters; anyone can read them, and I have been saying they’re not in character. They lack subtlety. To sum up my impression, it’s a running dialogue that sounds like this: “I hate you!” “No! I hate you more!” Over and over.

    Romeo might be the least in character. In Shakespeare’s version, he’s dreaming in another world, always lovesick. But from the start in Such Tweet Sorrow, he’s in the crowd that’s always yelling about hating everyone. And now, he’s finally in love, but I have to reread his tweets to figure out what he’s saying. Oh, I guess he’s saying he’s in love.

    The “groundlings” who “tried to get onstage”: I’m not sure I understand how you get onstage in a Twitter production. I’m not sure what the stage is. Instead of blocking people, Such Tweet Sorrow could have a character, Romeo for example, give, in an aside (Shakespeare is full of those), a link to the correct list with a warning that the “groundlings” are not in the cast.

    What is proper audience interaction? Characters responded to me when I said stupid things such as: to Juliet, I said she should tell some people to get a room. To Tybalt, I said I’d like to smoke in the garden with him and not go back to the party–not because I wanted to stay with Tybalt, but because I didn’t find the party interesting.

    To Jago Klepto I made the innocent remark that Such Tweet Sorrow was such an original work of art, I thought Romeo and Juliet should get married and live happily ever after at the end. His response seemed angry and confused me. So that would be an example of the wrong thing to say?

    But I absolutely loved it when Jess responded to a point I made about men and their loose talk about hormone problems. . .

    So what is proper audience interaction? You speak of the usual weird anomalies of Shakespearian quotes and references. Now you must be talking about me, because that sounds like what I have been doing. Ouch, Mr. Dibdin! I just have this passion for Shakespeare’s words, so that is another example of improper audience interaction? And I made references to other works of art as well. I would have been so happy to have Jess or Juliet agree with me that my link to YouTube of an actress in the role of Kate from the Kiss Me Kate parody of the Taming of the Shrew was a great performance. The actress sang, “I Hate Men!” For me, these side allusions enrich the production. I think Such Tweet Sorrow should feel flattered that the actors spark my imagination. Shakespeare is full of allusions, mythological, and Biblical.

    Also enriching the experience: the “groundlings.” You say that romeo_mon has mock profound poems? They are so original and full of wit and humor, with a reggae sound, and they do parallel the Romeo from the actual play much better than the one in Such Tweet Sorrow. It’s parody. Example: “Girl’s voice=crack!” Another example, in the original, Romeo and Mercutio talk about dreams. romeo_mon’s dream: “Just had a dream about being a dad. I had a lovely little daughter with curls named Molly.” I’m trying to remember if romeo_mo talked about dreams. If he did, they weren’t memorable.

    BenVoli0? I have to disagree where you say he “knew rather less of the script than the real actors.” First of all, the real actors don’t seem to follow any script too closely. BenVoli0 is pure parody. Again, as I read his interaction with the characters, it enriches the play. For example, he plays foursquare to show Romeo where Juliet’s balcony is. How cutting edge parody is that? He posts a picture of Capulet Towers and implies that Romeo should leap out of a plane like James Bond to land on Juliet’s balcony. It’s very original and funny, and I think it’s a shame he’s blocked.

    Your words: “And if that wasn’t enough of a warning that he wasn’t on-tweet, with the rest, he often tweeted as if he were in Verona. Such Tweet Sorrow is set in an English market town.” Well, the original is set in Verona! Did anyone notice? I hate it when I have to explain jokes, but humor is so subjective.

    It’s easier for people to agree on what’s sad than what’s funny, I guess. Those two “groundlings” make me laugh, and I think anyone who can make people laugh does this world a service.