The Bard meets 'Pulp Fiction'

Selling Shakespeare: RSC uses Hollywood-style sex-and-violence posters to attract young people to its classic productions
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The Independent Online

Arts Correspondent

Shakespeare and other classic drama productions are being sold as Hollywood- style sex-and-violence epics by the Royal Shakespeare Company to woo young audiences.

A spokeswoman for the company said yesterday that it was hard to get teenagers to the shows with conventional advertising.

So, the RSC poster for Coriolanus at the Barbican Theatre, London, has a blood-soaked face underneath the punning slogan "A Natural Born Killer Too". The nod towards Oliver Stone's graphically violent movie has clearly worked. The run at the Barbican has sold out, helped by the fact that teenage heart-throb Toby Stephens is in the title role. But for a production of Coriolanus to sell out is a rare feat.

The RSC hired a company to flypost 4,000 of the posters around London next to posters for pop concerts and raves. Flyposting is, strictly speaking, illegal, and marks the first time the RSC has indulged in illegal activity to sell a production.

The Pulp Fiction-style advertising is also being used for the six-hour adaptation of Goethe's Faust which opens at The Swan theatre in Stratford- upon-Avon today. The adaptation by Howard Brenton, directed by Michael Bogdanov, has a mock film poster with a 15 certificate next to the title, and the slogan "It's a hell of a story". It warns titillatingly that the production contains nudity and some scenes may be unsuitable for children. Pictures of the principals in film-star pose are accompanied by a commendably brief summing up of the Faust story: "It's Tempting; It's Heavenly; It's The Chance Of A Lifetime."

An RSC spokeswoman said: "Anything you can do to change people's preconceived ideas about Shakespeare is worthwhile, but only if the production carries it. We wanted to show that this was a cool, hip show, a show that has to be seen by young people."

The marketing officer Chris Sare, who devised the Coriolanus poster, said he had the film Reservoir Dogs in mind with the bloody face. "The flyposting gave it an on-the-street feel, and our target audience for this production, students and young people, increased by 1,140 per cent. But we wouldn't do this for every production. It would be improper to take Twelfth Night and advertise it as shock-horror."