It's the question being asked by La Boite Theatre in their new, contemporary production of William Shakespeare's classic tragedy.
Directed by Todd MacDonald and starring Jackson Bannister and Darcy Gooda (in her La Boite debut) respectively as the titular star-crossed lovers, this adaptation tests just how relevant the Bard truly is in the 21st century.
“The reason we're putting this focus on it being contemporary is because it's so easy for people to use Shakespearean platitudes such as 'Shakespeare is universal',” Darcy posits.
“But for it to be universal you have to constantly prove that and re-imagine it. That's what we're doing, we're trying to prove it's universal by re-imagining it and making it relatable to today's audience.”
As a 420-odd-year-old piece of literature, 'Romeo & Juliet' has certainly stood the test of time; yet in this day and age, Director Todd MacDonald's approach is to attack Shakespeare in order to keep it relevant, sharp and clear.
“He's definitely attacking it, that's for sure,” Jackson affirms.
“There's often a mistake of people saying Shakespeare is Shakespeare and the words are the story and that you can almost go out there and say it and that's enough, but I really don't think it is.
“As a theatre consumer myself, I think we have to put so much more into Shakespeare and prove why it's relevant as opposed to what Darcy said of going along with those platitudes of 'Shakespeare is still relevant'. Just because he was an amazing writer doesn't mean that that's enough. You have to attack it, and I think we definitely are so far.”
Image © Dylan Evans
By way of justifying the approach, Jackson invokes the work of Shakespearean actor and author Ben Crystals that say Shakespeare himself would be asking the same questions of his own work today.
“At his core [Shakespeare] was someone who was making money off entertaining people and he happened to be an amazing artist and amazing writer... But if Shakespeare was here today and was in the rehearsal room with you, he'd be asking the Director: 'does that joke still stand? Is that line still necessary? If there's another way of doing it then let's do that'.
“I generally agree with the idea that Shakespeare was concrete in what he wanted – he knew more than anyone that it was about giving the audience what they wanted and giving them an experience, and if that means changing it or cutting it, Shakespeare would probably let us.”
Nevertheless, 'Romeo & Juliet' remains a beloved story that finds new breath in each generation it reaches, begging the question: Why do we still care? For Darcy, the answer is older than the work to which it pertains.
“The way I look at it is, this play is about young people being wrapped up in the mistakes of adults,” she says.
“If you look at today, at the movements all over the world – the climate change movement and gun control movements – it's the young people that are trying to change the status-quo. They'e the ones being resourceful and headstrong, and they're the ones with the voice Ieading these movements, so I think that's very pertinent to todays culture.”
'Romeo & Juliet' plays at La Boite Theatre 25 May-15 June.