Romeo and Juliet, Act 2, Scene 2
So within the last two weeks I have read one of the best books and seen one of the best theatre shows of my life, and I just can’t believe that hardly any people have heard about them! ‘Brave New World’ by Aldous Huxley and The Q Brothers’ ‘Othello: The Re-Mix’ (currently on at the Unicorn Theatre). Go forth my lovely readers, and find them! But if you want to know more about how and why they are so awesome, read on…
Starting then, with ‘Othello: The Re-Mix’since I saw that the most recently. I really only went to see this because my fellow stewards at the Globe raved about it so much; it premiered at the Globe to Globe Festival last year, as part of their 37 Shakespeare plays in 37 different languages. This one was supposedly in ‘Hip Hop’, which, to be honest, I laughed incredulously when I first heard about. But it was amazing, seriously incredible. The concept is that Othello (played by Postell Pringle) is a huge rap/hip hop icon (I thought of him a bit like Jay-Z), Cassio (Jackson Doran) is an up-and-coming star, who’s popular with the ladies, and is good friends with Othello and Iago (GQ) is an old rapper, only really known by underground, super fans and jealous of Cassio’s increasing success. Desdemona, who amazingly never appears on stage, is the singer who doe s those ‘oooohs’ and ‘aaahs’ and twiddly bits and who Othello falls madly in love with. The whole story is told in 75 minutes, no interval and is done entirely in rap.
The lyrics are witty, intelligent, Shakespeare-referential and pacy; watching this must be just like watching Shakespeare for the first time – full of up-to-date cultural citations (the CEO of the music company, Loco Vito (JQ), is for some reason obsessed with tennis so we get a lot of references to Nadal, Federer and Murray) and tongue-in-cheek meta-theatrical bits as well as some deeply emotional sections. However, saying this, one of the highlights for me was Emilia (Doran)’s re-worked rendition of ‘This is a Man’s World’ supported by all four other actors, including the DJ (Clayton Stamper), dressed in drag as rather fabulous backing singers!
I honestly cannot recommend this show highly enough. If you see one play this year, make it this one. It’s cheap (only £10 for under 21s) and quick enough for dinner afterwards (it’s just 75 minutes, no interval) and, more importantly, it’s completely and utterly hilarious and amazing.
‘Brave New World’ is slightly more serious; it’s got a kind of ‘1984’ vibe, as it’s about a ‘new world’ in the future, where a central corporation run the whole country and the lower people are seemingly happy in their ignorance. Except in this world, literally everyone is happy, as a result of genetic and environmental engineering, and the creation of ‘soma’, pills with the combined effect of alcohol and drugs, but without any of the horrible side-effects. There are classes of people ranging from Epsilon Semi-Morons, through Gamma, Delta, Beta, and finally Alpha, or even Alpha-Plus, and each is bred to be suitable for a certain lifestyle, a certain job. The government control genetics; there are no such things as parents any more (in fact, ‘mother’ and ‘father’ are considered rude words) and embryos have their nutrients or environments changed in order to make them particularly suitable for one job. To make this easier, something called ‘Bokanovsky’s Process’ means that all Epsilons, Gammas and Deltas are bred in batches, like twins, but times 70; “Oh brave new world, that has such people in’t” indeed.
However, what I found most disturbing was the social conditioning that occurred after the children were fully formed. They are taught through electric shocks to dislike flowers and the countryside, as neither of these things makes money for the country. Mantras play into their ears as they sleep so that they learn to buy not mend (again, for profit) and to rely entirely on soma for their happiness. ‘Everyone is everyone’s’ is another key chant that many repeat; relationships are severely frowned upon as exclusivity is seen as denying the country your services.
The key moral question I think Huxley poses here is that “You’ve got to choose between happiness and what people used to call fine art”. Whilst everyone is almost completely happy in this country, none of them have heard of Shakespeare, Beethoven, Monet, and when they do, they simply don’t understand the appeal. Bernard and Lenina, two of the novel’s central characters, go to visit a reserve of savages, people who have resisted the new regime. When they befriend one of them, John, and, through a series of incidents, end up taking him back with them, he becomes stuck adrift between two worlds. The beautiful poetry of Shakespeare which had provided him with solace and company whilst in the reserve completely baffles the others. As a powerful leader in the book says: “You can’t make tragedy without social instability.” This is the crux of the matter: would we choose the inequality and suffering and pain of the world we live in now in order to have books and plays and songs and art that truly has a message, which says something profound, over complete happiness with our lives, however monotonous or bland they might seem to us now? Does it matter what you do with your life so long as you are happy? An interesting question in these times of happiness surveys and statistics.
For me, the actual plot of the novel took secondary importance to these conundrums and ideas that were thrown out by the book. I especially enjoyed the beginning, as I find it always exciting to be immersed into a whole new world’s systems and regulations, and I also loved the continual quoting of Shakespeare plays by John (of course I did!). But, as I said, the idea is what’s so important about this book. The plot, the characters are only a way of making the sides of the argument more obvious and more divided. Again, a fantastic piece of work, highly recommended for anyone at all.
Two brilliant experiences that I hope you will enjoy sharing too.