THE idea behind Romeo and Juliet: Unzipped is to engage young people and to help them see that Shakespeare isn’t ‘difficult’ or inaccessible.

Playhouse associate director Mark Powell, who wrote and directed the work, has experimented with other Shakespeare plays but keeps coming back to Romeo and Juliet.

It’s a good choice.

The members of the audience at Tuesday’s show, which mixed scenes from the play with discussion and explanations of the text and the time period in which it was first performed, were mainly students from local schools, and what better play to engage them than one that centres around youngsters their own age?

A couple of the young people audibly gasped when they were informed that Juliet was just 13, and you could see the thoughtful frowns on their faces as they were asked to consider the attitude of the heroine’s mother in the light of the fact that she was only in her early 20s, or the actions of other characters in a society where most people only lived to the age of 32.

The five-strong cast are eminently likeable and young enough to not be so far out of the audience’s age range as to appear remote, and they perform with an enthusiasm that can’t help but to pull you into the action.

Deliberately drawing on the shock factor at times and often playing it for laughs, this show taps into the concerns and preoccupations of audience and character alike.

Romeo and Juliet: Unzipped is an effective hybrid of performance and classroom that successfully brings Shakespeare’s text to life in a variety of different and innovative ways.