Brett Morris describes Prokofiev’s ballet score for Romeo and Juliet as “arguably the greatest romantic ballet score of the 20th century”. Matthew Bourne, on the other hand, has chosen to emphasise the tragedy of Shakespeare’s classic love story as he supplants the tale from fair Verona into an institution in the not too distant future. Bourne is well known for his eclectic imagination as applied to the most classic ballets, the most famous of which is his all-male ensemble adaptation of Swan Lake.
This latest venture is no exception at all to the wildness and brilliance of the adaptive magic that is the New Adventures repertoire. This new production is currently touring the UK and I was lucky enough to be invited to the press night at the Wales Millennium Centre yesterday evening. Personally, I count myself as a fan of ballet and I’ve just finished studying the narrative of the original Romeo and Juliet as written by Shakespeare. Due to this, my review will focus on this performance at hand but will also discuss the narrative of Bourne’s adaptation as well as the dancing as the two cannot realistically be isolated.
Above I have included the cast list for the performance which I attended. Andrew (Andy) Monaghan [Romeo] and Seren Williams [Juliet] encapsulate the switch which occurs between the backgrounds and attitudes fo Romeo and Juliet from the original play. In Bourne’s adaptation Romeo’s parents, Senator and Mrs Montague, are the only remnants from the original Montague/Capulet rivalry. They are also, now, the parents who must ‘do something’ with their child by sending him to the institution of the setting, rather than Lord and Lady Capulet who attempted to pass their daughter off in marriage while Romeo and his friends flitted in and out of parties with no parents in sight. Following this, in this new production Juliet is now independent of all family name and relation and has been in the institution, and is more unfortunately experienced of its ways, than Romeo.
There are many changes like this which uphold the original narrative, the balcony pas de deux, the conflicts and the deaths familiar to the audience are still intact, but which drastically refresh the narrative. For example, Juliet is not only more active but also more present taking part and even a lead in the majority of the major points of the narrative. Personally, I loved many of these changes and I wish I could discuss them in detail but I won’t for the risk of spoilers. What I will say, however, is that in this new production Juliet’s suicide is re-worked into not only an act of young true love for the sake of the man she has, in most productions, just met but a release of her efforts, attempts and sufferings.
Due to many of the new features I have mentioned above, Juliet is the stand out character of this show. This was due to the effortless and amazing combination of the reworked narrative and Williams’ interpretation of the choreography which makes said narrative come to life. I just couldn’t stop watching her throughout the show. She upheld Juliet’s movements with a delicate balance of suffering and strength which ultimately characterised her Juliet as one, especially if allowed to thrive in a different setting or aloud a happier conclusion, not to be crossed. Her performance is one that I will not forget any time soon. This does run the risk of her Romeo becoming slightly overshadowed, however, Monaghan ensures that this is not the case as he seemingly effortlessly literally supports Williams throughout the performance.
This ballet is one which defies expectation. As I mentioned above, the Montague/Capulet rivalry is no longer present. Initially the segregation between the girls and boys in the institution and the opening music of the Dance of the Knights, which is heard throughout and almost becomes re-characterised as a theme for Romeo and Juliet’s attempted defiance, lead you to believe that this will be the new seemingly clean cut divide and conflict. It soon becomes clear, however, that this is not the case. There is not a clean cut divide anywhere. There is a cut conflict between the inhabitants and the guards of the institution but this is representative of the wider divide between the loveless, Tybalt the guard [Danny Reubens] no longer related to Juliet but instead her sexual abuser taking advantage of the captivity of the girls and Romeo’s parents who work and pay more to ensure Romeo remains within the institution, and those, namely Romeo and Juliet but also Mercutio and his boyfriend Balthasar [played to full excitement by Ben Brown and Asher Rosenheim respectively], who fight or simply take their opportunity to love. This products shows a seemingly simple way to place a narrative inti a complete different setting and actually reworks the narrative itself to fit and it certainly pays off.
As much as I wish I could go into more detail, as I have said, I think this production is one where spoilers should be avoided at all costs before seeing it. Well, apart from the ending which we all know will happen as addressed by the show itself which begins with the same image of the ending. I will end with that this is the mist traduces leaning in the narrative of a Romeo and Juliet that I have seen but this does not come at the cost of the sweet moments and the love present between the leads. The balcony scene, as it should be, remains a highlight in which the even the breath of the dancers is incorporated.
I would strongly recommend this production not only for those highly familiar with either original narrative or ballet but also for those who are curious to see another adaptation of one of the most famous generalised narratives in the English language. The youth and highly refined skill of the dancers also ensures a feeing of support surrounding this excellent production at the heart of the company itself and not just this one show. I can guarantee that you will leave this show taking about the story and the dancers for the rest of the night. If you’re looking for a highly imaginative, intelligent and intriguing adaptation of Romeo and Juliet and/or an excellent fresh new ballet from one of our greatest creative minds this is where to find it.
Romeo + Juliet is running at the Wales Millennium Centre until the 22nd of June and you can book your tickets here. It will then be continuing on its tour of the UK.
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