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Sunday 5 November 2017

Guest Post: Goldie Alexander on Rewriting Shakespeare

The Guinness Book of Records lists over 500 versions of  Shakespeare, making his plays the most reworked in any language. Some remain faithful to the original. Others blend into something ‘new and strange.’ When I taught English, many secondary students found it almost impossible to relate what he wrote to their own experience.  Aware that ‘Macbeth’, ‘Romeo and Juliet’, and ‘The Tempest’ are on the Australian Curriculum, I decided on creating more ‘takes’, my aim being to show Shakespeare as still timeless, but using local idioms and perceptions. I called the trilogy, SHAKESPEARE NOW!

Many youngsters are keen on science fantasy. What if in The Tempest, instead of an island, Prospero and Miranda live in a distant part of the universe?  In The Trytth Chronicles’ Miranda and her father Prospero, the rightful director of the Naples2Meta-Planetory-Corporation, have been exiled to a lonely spaceship. Also on board are Ariel, a Trytth. And Caliban, a Xrobb.

Using the miraculous ‘Blue Power’, Prospero creates a meteor tempest to bring his brother Alonso, nephew Ferdie, and those that help run the company, to his giant starship.   

Miranda and Ferdie fall in love. But Alonso’s subordinates are murderous, and Caliban steals some Blue Power to fly Ariel and four humans to the beautiful if dangerous planet of Trytth. In an extension of the original plot, what happens next tests Miranda to the limit.

Retelling Macbeth from the perspective of a contemporary youngster was more difficult. But don’t many young people have trouble finding jobs?  In ‘Gap Year Nanny’, Merri Attwater comes home early from her travels, to find work as the Macbeths’ nanny. Sexually confused and lonely, she develops a crush on charming Stuart Macbeth. 

After ambitious Lorna Macbeth persuades Stuart to pay three scary Internet Gurus for advice, using Merri as a silent confessor, Stuart admits to destroying his old boss Duncan, and taking over as CEO of their international company. She learns the rest through eavesdropping. 

As the year progresses, Merri’s life starts to improve. But as the Internet Gurus continue to advise Stuart, his ambitions start to destroy him.

When it came to Romeo and Juliet’ I became intrigued with a dilapidated building in East Berlin, rediscovered in 2008. Originally ‘The Hummingbird Restaurant and Theatre’, it reached its full glory in the 1920’s when Berlin, like Paris, was a centre of cultural Europe. 

In Changing History? Melbourne based Taylor, holidaying in Berlin in 2016, aims to audition for tertiary dance schools, but has been told she probably won’t make it.  Worse still, her closest friends have betrayed her.

Hit by a chunk of cornice, she regains consciousness in 1928. Rom, the Hummingbird’s junior manager, takes her home to his impoverished family. Now Taylor only survives by dish-washing, clearing tables, sharing a tiny room with dancer Julie, and eventually joining her troupe.   

Rom and Julie are in love. But as they come from different religions, their parents are against any union. When Taylor hears that Goebbels, the present Nazi leader, is coming to Berlin, she persuades Julie and Rom to help her stop the Holocaust and World War 2 before it can happen. But can Taylor really change history?

The Sydney based Five Senses Education took on Shakespeare Now! I was worried that a one-fits-all cover with differing titles would be ignored. My good fortune was finding the wonderful artist Paul Taplin who created some startling results. Now all I can hope is that the youngsters who read these novels will be interested enough to go back to the originals, because there is no way any contemporary author can reproduce Shakespeare’s wonderful poetry.

Goldie’s 90 books and prizewinning short stories for adults and young readers of all ages appear both in Australia and internationally. Her young adult and middle grade novels written in almost every genre, have won 3 Notables though she is best known for her 8 historical fictions. Her latest trilogy Shakespeare Now! takes on the challenge of rewriting Shakespeare using young protagonists and contemporary settings.  She facilitates creative writing workshops in schools, mentors emerging authors and runs Writing Memoir workshops.  

Her website is www.goldiealexander.com