“For there never was a story of more woe, than this of Juliet and her Romeo” - William Shakespeare With the mention of Romeo and Juliet, most people think of the same generic things: star-crossed lovers, teenage angst and plenty of pointless death. Thoughts of brawling families and destructive feuds follow. If you do not live under a rock and have seen the 1996 adaptation by Baz Luhrmann, a young and beautiful Leonardo Di Caprio probably comes to mind as well.

In any case, it is likely that the only female character of particular prominence is Juliet herself, and both Lady Capulet and the Nurse are just coincidental women in a vast cluster of men. So, it’s extremely refreshing to discover that the director Michael Oakley has made an active effort to make amends. In this production, the audience is treated to a cast with a 50/50 gender split in order to better reflect the “gender balance in our own world”. The characters of Tybalt and Benvolio, who are traditionally male, have been transformed to female roles to achieve this balance, bringing “another dimension and interpretation to the play”. What is even more wonderful is that fact that the character of Tybalt is every bit as strong and fierce as in the original, and the director has not felt the need for Ayoola Smart to make her brilliant portrayal as the feisty “Queen of Cats” more mellow and palatable just because she is a woman. Tybalt is still feared by Romeo and his friends, and is still regarded as the most formidable opponent anybody could face.

Other aspects of the play have also been revolutionised. After reducing the audience to a shocked silence with their heart-breaking joint suicide scene, Romeo and Juliet immediately join the rest of the cast in a highly energetic, modern hip-hop dance routine. Admittedly, there is something very comical yet oddly endearing about Juliet, played by Charlotte Beaumont, in her bloodstained wedding gown performing the trendiest dance moves on the Internet. Shakespeare’s prolific use of wordplay comes in handy, and these funny innuendoes have been highlighted and emphasised, keeping the play light and entertaining between the scenes of weighty misery.

The play is made all the more engaging with the actors’ skilful use of audience involvement. A one point, Romeo, (Nathan Welsh) and his cousin, Benvolio (Shalisha James-Davis), play their scene from the pit itself, which is packed with thrilled viewers. The actors must also be commended on their impressive tackling of a difficult set. With the audience on three sides, vocal projection and constant travelling on the stage are absolutely key to ensure everyone gets equal exposure to the dialogue and the action.

This production of Romeo and Juliet is part of the Playing Shakespeare with Deutsche Bank programme which allows schools to visit Shakespeare’s Globe for significantly subsidised prices. Already, over 18,000 secondary school students from London and Birmingham have received free tickets to this production. The programme also provides free online resources for teachers and professional workshops for children. In the UK, pupils are required to study a minimum of two Shakespeare plays between the ages of 11-14. Only 53% have ever been to the theatre. It is hard to remain engaged in plays that are decade old without being given the chance to see them in all their glory and not just as words on a page. The scheme is a magnificent way for keeping young people interested in older English Literature and is vital for keeping the charm and allure of Shakespeare’s work alive. It seems to be quite a roaring success, with more than 40,000 people estimated to come and see it in March alone.