Most students dread the thought of studying a Shakespeare play. The old English, intricate plots and complex themes make understanding the Bard a challenge. But a local theatre group believes it doesn't have to be this way. Their adaptation of Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice aims to help primary students improve their English. The adaptation is written by Shakespeare4All, a non-profit organisation that aims to enhance the English proficiency and confidence of students. Since its launch in 2003, Shakespeare4All and its programmes have proved popular with primary school pupils. Past performances include A Midsummer Night's Dream and Macbeth. Vicki Ooi, the founder and artistic director of Shakespeare4All, is an enthusiastic advocate of learning English through drama. 'Playing Shakespearean characters in front of a huge audience not only helps improve students' English, it also boosts their confidence,' Dr Ooi said. Their simplified version of The Merchant of Venice is set in 1930s Shanghai. Since August, 107 students from 23 primary schools have been rehearsing for the play, which will be staged in the Grand Theatre of the Hong Kong Cultural Centre on October 2. Each school pays an annual membership fee to take part in the programme, which involves a two-term course consisting of 20 weekly lessons conducted by Shakespeare4All's professional drama instructors. Each student pays HK$1,800 for the course. An audition for students to star in the gala performance next month was held in April. Drama professionals were invited to select the best actors from participating schools. The actors are now training intensively for the big night. The students say the experience is not only fun, it is also a valuable opportunity to improve their English. Tong Chi-kin, an 11-year-old student at St Paul's Co-Educational Primary School (Kennedy Road), enjoys playing Bassanio. 'I have made many new friends. Also, as I had to memorise a lot of lines, I learned new English words,' he said. 'Being one of the lead actors, I have a lot of responsibility. If I make a mistake, it will affect the whole cast, so I have to be alert at all times.' Teachers have also found the programme useful in improving students' oral English. Ng Mei-ha, an English teacher at St Bonaventure Catholic Primary School, is pleased her students can learn English in a fun way. 'We have been working with Shakespeare4All for three years. Twenty-one of our students joined the course this year and six of them are starring in the gala performance,' she said. 'Some of them were quite shy at the beginning, but, after much practice, they have become more outspoken and even compete to answer questions in English lessons.' The play Date: October 2 (Monday) Times: 3.30pm and 7.30pm Venue: Hong Kong Cultural Centre Tickets: HK$50, HK$100, HK$200, HK$300 Ticketing Enquiries: 2734 9009 Synopsis: In 1930s Shanghai, there is much conflict between the Christians and Jews. Young Bassanio needs money to pursue the wealthy heiress, Portia, and asks for the help of his merchant friend, Antonio. Antonio borrows money from a Jewish moneylender, Shylock, who wants to make use of the chance to avenge Antonio's discrimination against the Jews. Bassanio finally marries Portia. Unable to repay the loan, Antonio has to sacrifice a pound of flesh to Shylock. Portia, disguised as a male lawyer, comes to Antonio's rescue and successfully thwarts Shylock's evil plans.