“Make me acquainted with your cause of grief”
The Works is a short film written and directed by Elliot Barnes-Worrell that rather ingeniously explores life for a group of young people on a Peckham estate using only the words of Shakespeare. Barnes-Worrell has worked his way through the Complete Works and woven together his own story by splicing diverse characters and speeches into one powerfully effective whole.
So when tension erupts into a fight between rival factions (“Do you bite your thumb at us, sir?”), a nearby do-gooder called Portia intervenes to break them up (“The quality of mercy is not strained…”), breaking off from a chat with her girlfriend Celia (you always knew that, right?!) and so on and so forth. Barnes-Worrell is endlessly inventive in the way he cherry-picks the source material but it isn’t always immediately clear who is who in the power structures on this estate.
There’s a wonderfully strong cast though – Ronak Patani and Eric Kofi Abrefa, Cherelle Skeete and Fisayo Akinade all impressing with their naturalistic readings, though the real plaudits go to the veterans in the cast. Sharon D Clarke’s Macbeth and Ralph Fiennes’ Jacques, an earthy pairing who turn The Seven Ages of Man into the badinage of a deeply affectionate couple, their happiness here all too short-lived.
The Works is the kind of contemporary celebration of Shakespeare that ought to be at the forefront not just of the Shakespeare Lives programme but theatres’ programming across the nation. For it is this kind of adaptation that one can really imagine connecting with young audience, infecting modern classrooms with the kind of enthusiasm that is perhaps taken for granted by some. Available for six months on the iPlayer, you’ve got no excuse!