Multicultural actors performing Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet this summer will be conveying a message of harmony in diversity that pleasantly contrasts with the plight faced by the star-crossed lovers for whom intolerance proved fatal.

When the artistic director of London's Theatre Studio West, Julie Saunders, cast the actors to perform Romeo and Juliet she based her decisions on talent and not ethnicity.

"The result was a white Romeo and a black Juliet and a cast, as a whole, that show the beauty of working together and bringing cultures together," explained Ms Saunders who is also a drama tutor to young people ranging between 14 and 20.

In July, her theatre company, Theatre Studio West, will be venturing outside the UK for the first time and coming to Malta to celebrate the European Year of Intercultural Dialogue.

"Everyone knows the story of Romeo and Juliet, who die in the end, but this is not the point. The point is the journey to that destruction, why it happens and how society and the way we live allow it to happen. It's about a waste of life... And in London we have a lot of problems with gang youth and crime, so it (the story) is still relevant today," Ms Saunders said, gesticulation amply expressing her passion for drama.

She added that Theatre Studio West's rendition of Romeo and Juliet remains faithful to Shakespeare's text and, even though it is in a modern setting and the language has been modernised, care was taken to maintain the original rhythm of verse.

"On top of that, multi-ethnic factors come into play and influence the manner in which actors interpret their parts... We also introduced a lot of music like Indonesian stage fighting mingled with very modern dance routines... The young actors bring their own influences and experiences of what it's like to be young and in a gang or violent situation which a lot of them have experienced in London," she said.

Ms Saunders, who started off as an actress, set up the theatre group in 2006 because she wanted to help young people realise their potential through drama.

When she was a child, her family thought she would grow up to become a lawyer or politician since she was very academic, but she always secretly wanted to be an actress.

Her teacher and grandmother encouraged her to attend drama school from where she went straight to the Royal Shakespeare Company, which was no surprise given that she was reading Shakespeare at the age of seven. As she grew up, Ms Saunders realised that West London, where she was brought up, did not have a theatre group, so in 2006 she decided to start one for young people.

"You can't quantify the potential of learning through drama and theatre. I've always been into empowerment and giving a voice to young people and helping them realise that they can achieve what they want if they focus their energy, anger or determination on something that has potential," she said.

The performance will be held on July 25 and 26 at 8.30 p.m. at the Maria Regina Lyceum's open air theatre in Blata l-Bajda and is being organised in collaboration with the Malta Drama Centre and the Parliamentary Secretariat for Youth.

Tickets cost €7 (Lm3) and can be obtained from the Drama Centre by booking on 2122 0665 or e-mailing

Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.

Support Us