The Abu Dhabi Festival - arguably the capital's most important cultural event of the year - kicks off Sunday with the most famous love story of all time. Fourteen actors from Shakespeare's Globe Theatre company in London will take the stage to perform Romeo and Juliet for the first two nights of the festival.
"We are absolutely delighted to be opening this festival," says Chris Stafford, the show's producer. "It is a festival that embraces art from around the world and for us to take [over] a show that hasn't even opened in London yet is a real privilege."
The classic tale of two star-crossed lovers has been specifically designed for younger audiences as part of Globe Education's annual Playing Shakespeare with Deutsche Bank series, for which the plays are adapted to suit an average age of 14.
"Theatre for young people is like any theatre," Stafford says. "There is no dumbing down and it will be a full-scale production. It just means that we have edited it in a way to suit them and maximise their learning."
What to expect
The Globe Theatre in London is an exact replica of the kind of theatre that Shakespeare's audiences would have gone to in Elizabethan times. It is open-air, audience members stand throughout performances and there are no microphones, lighting or special effects.
It is almost impossible to recreate these conditions outside of the original premises but in Abu Dhabi, the same kind of atmosphere will be achieved by keeping the house lights on throughout the show and audience interaction will be encouraged.
"Being able to see and speak to the audience is key to the way we tell our stories," says Stafford. "That connection is really important as we want people to feel part of the performance."
What has been changed?
Some scenes have been deleted to make the play shorter but the essence of the story has not been compromised, Stafford says.
Next week's production will also be a contemporary one, with actors riding around on BMX bikes at certain points. "There will be a few surprises but we have kept the richness of the story and at the same time catch the essence of the Globe," he says.
The target audience
Stafford says the performance is not just for young people. "Of course everyone can enjoy it but the thing with Romeo and Juliet is that it is a dream to produce for teenagers. Juliet is supposed to be 14 years old and the play is about falling in love for the first time and relationships with your parents. These are the kinds of things that concern young people."
It is also important to keep the pace of the play moving quickly and to inject comedy into the show, he says. This is achieved by the 10 actors (the other four cast members are musicians) doubling up on roles. The tragic ending is also softened by the inclusion of a merry jig just before curtain fall, to ensure people leave on a more positive note.
This is the third consecutive year that the Globe Education team has staged a show in Abu Dhabi. Productions of Macbeth in 2011 and A Midsummer Night's Dream in 2012 sold out, and so has Romeo and Juliet. For the first time this year, the show made a tour before arriving at the festival. In February they performed in Dubai at the Madinat Theatre and one night in Doha, Qatar.
Shakespeare's Globe Theatre company performs Romeo and Juliet on Sunday and Monday at the Abu Dhabi Theatre, starting at 8pm