Shakespeare in Cuffs

O Constable, Constable! Wherefore art thou, Constable?

Talk about theater of the absurd: the director of an upcoming London production of “Romeo and Juliet” set for Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre wants staging advice – from Scotland Yard.

Director Bill Buckhurst reportedly met with Metropolitan Police Commander Steve Allen to discuss how to avoid glorifying knife violence during the sword-fighting scenes in a new version of the 16th Century teenage tearjerker.

There’s been a spate of teen gang-related slayings in Britain – 28 murders last year, many of them stabbings. Meanwhile, some 10,000 teenagers are expected to see the production next month in the open-air theater along the Thames.

Not to give anything away, but several characters in “Romeo and Juliet” are dispatched by the business end of a sword or dagger; oh, and there’s no happily-ever-after for the eponymours star-crossed young lovers.

Whatever the good intentions, the theater-police collaboration seems to be more evidence that the land of “Mary Poppins” is turning into a nanny state. Last month, a UK parenting website released a survey indicating many British parents don't read their children fairy tales because the stories are too scary.

Teen violence is, of course, a serious problem, and it’s crucial to root out the causes. Chances are, getting riled up by Shakespeare isn’t one of them.

Seeing “Romeo and Juliet” could actually have a positive effect by showing teens the futility of violence and silly tribal hatreds. The play likely will spark a love of theater in some kids, and induce sleep in others. That’s just the way it is with the Bard, even with his most melodramatic and teen friendly work.

Meanwhile, a revival of “West Side Story” -- the Stephen Sondheim-Leonard Bernstein-Jerome Robbins musical inspired by “Romeo and Juliet” and set in the gang-plagued New York of the 1950s – is set to open on Broadway next month.

No word yet if the NYPD is sitting in on rehearsals.

Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992.

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