On July 6 — appropriately enough International Kissing Day I gather — Audible Germany will release Julia & Romeo, a new dramatic adaptation of the tale, ten hours long, and in German naturally.
Is this simply a dramatised version of the English original performed so wonderfully by Richard Armitage and released last December? Not at all. It’s a fresh adaptation as a full-blown audio drama with a cast of well-known German actors, specially-written music, effects and a brand new script. So yes, this is an adaptation of an adaptation, one which returns to the original medium of drama where Shakespeare first popularised the story.
Followers of the German audio scene will know this isn’t the first time. Two years ago Audible released a dramatic version of Macbeth following on from the original audiobook I cowrote with A.J. Hartley, narrated by Alan Cumming. It was the extraordinary success of that project that prompted us to take the same approach with Romeo & Juliet, this time turning round the title to reflect the fact it’s more Juliet’s story than his.
The general direction follows the English adaptation but there are some new scenes and a different perspective on some aspects of the story. It’s important to aim work at the medium concerned, not be tied down by the constraints of the original. I took this approach when adapting Shakespeare’s play and did the same when turning a one-man performance — which was what I gave Richard — into a fully-realised dramatic production. Much the same happened with Macbeth.
A few words of thanks are in order. First to Audible Germany’s Katja Reister and her team who nurtured this project from the very beginning, helped me shape the script and then took it into the long and laborious process of production. Something like thirty to forty people were involved in bringing Julia & Romeo to life, from musicians to actors and production staff, all of them working with the dedication to excellence you always find in Audible.
I was fortunate enough to meet some of the actors in Berlin at the end of recording. Yara Blümel is an artful Julia, clever, wily and determined. Nicolas Artejo makes Romeo his own, a figure slipping from the thrill of love into the arms of tragedy. Like everyone else in the cast they can call upon a wealth of experience in the theatre, on screen and in the recording booth… and it shows. I’m also deeply indebted to my translator Änne Troester who cast an eagle eye over my English original and transformed it into the equivalent in modern German.
As anyone who’s listened to the German Macbeth knows too the soundscape — music, effects, the feel of the piece — is essential. That, and the direction and recording of the work, is in the hands of the remarkable Studio Stil, two amazing chaps, Christian Hagitte and Simon Bertling, who work wonders in their studio at the top of an old school building in Berlin’s Paulsborner Straße, not far from the Kudamm. Christian and Simon oversaw Macbeth. Just as then they’ve taken great care to write music that fits both story and era, recording in churches and other locations a complete, original sound track tuned to the 1499 setting, and using instruments of the time.
Working on a fascinating project like this has taught me some of the huge differences between being a novelist and a dramatist. When I write a book I write everything. When I work on a script I’m effectively creating a blueprint for others to build upon, using a wide variety of skills from direction and production to acting and music. With Julia & Romeo I’ve been lucky enough to work with one of the most talented audio drama creative teams around. I hope you enjoy the result.
Here’s an audio snippet from the balcony scene…
And if you want to listen to the author rambling on about the project there’s something else on YouTube here.