HOW many playwrights are still capturing the public’s interest four centuries after they shuffled off this mortal coil?  There’s one that springs to mind, of course, as it’s exactly 400 years since a certain William Shakespeare put down his quill for the final time.

 To commemorate this anniversary, a group of Borders-based youngsters from Shakespeare at Traquair will be presenting an evening of Shakespeare’s Shorts - two fifty minute adaptations of Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet at the Eastgate Theatre and Arts Centre, Peebles, followed by a show in Carlops.  Then, in August, the troupe heads off to the world’s biggest arts festival, the Edinburgh Fringe, where they hope to repeat the sell-out success they enjoyed last year when Macbeth and The Comedy of Errors were on the menu.

 In Hamlet, we find that the eponymous hero has the hump.  His Uncle Claudius has bumped off his Dad and married his Mum, who’s a bit too fond of ‘ginger beer’.  Girlfriend Ophelia won’t listen to a word he says and his best mate, Horatio, keeps seeing ghosts.  No wonder Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are confused.  Mysteries, murders and magical music abound in this intriguing take on Shakespeare’s longest play – which runs for over four hours uncut!

 Then in Romeo and Juliet we find Balthasar’s bemused, Romeo’s a wuss and the Friar’s on the fiddle but Juliet Capulet calls the shots in an ice-cream war with the Montagues.  Throw in a voluptuous Nurse, a dandy Paris, two warring tribes with loads of raspberry ripple and you’ve the recipe for a rip-roaring romance with a twist.

 Adapted and directed by Tim Wilcock, the plays mix modern language and selected Shakespearian text which, together with a good dollop of melodrama, physical theatre and mime, ensure that they’ll prove a hit with anyone aged 7 and above.  Richard Nisbet, the founder of the group, commented that “Young actors performing timeless work aimed at a young audience is what it’s all about”, he said.

“And, as so many of our youngsters go on to play main parts in our summer shows, projects like this are akin to us having our own acting school.”

 Tim Wilcock, a regular Fringe performer who also works as a theatre critic for one of the UK’s leading fringe websites, agrees.  “Giving talented youngsters exposure to performing in a professional environment like the Fringe will be both educational and enriching for them”, he says.  “And we have some exceptional young actors playing completely contrasting roles in both plays with the poise and gravitas of people far beyond their teenage years.”

 It all bodes well for the pre-Fringe run at Eastgate Theatre and Arts Centre (7.30pm, Friday, June 17, tickets from 01721 725777) and the Carlops Village Hall (7.30pm, Saturday, June 18, tickets from 07773 024 024).   Then it’s off to the Fringe where the plays will run at theSpaceUK, Niddry Street (Venue 9) at 12 noon from August 5-13 inclusive.

Tickets from 0131 226 0000.