Theatre Review: Romeo & Juliet

With its many stage and screen adaptations, Shakespeare’s most famous play has almost been done to death – but how does visionary Matthew Vaughn’s take fare against the rest?

As most people know, Romeo & Juliet tells the classic story of two star-crossed lovers from opposing households whose family feud leads to the two dying mere minutes apart. This adaptation for the Theatre Royal uses the music from Sergei Prokofiev’s ballet of the same name (which includes Dance of the Knights, used as the theme to The Apprentice) but with contemporary dance. This time round, the setting is the Verona Institute in a not-too-distant future where Romeo and Juliet are inmates and Tybalt is a guard.

If you are bored senseless of “Wherefore art thou Romeo?”, you’ll be happy to know that all moods and feelings are communicated through the music and the dancers’ slick movements, rather than spoken dialogue. Actions speak louder than words and you can still get the idea of what is happening.

One small yet welcome change from the original was Laurence (a reverend in this version rather than a friar or monk) being made a female which gives a motherly like feeling to these rowdy kids bouncing off the walls. Even though youth is undoubtedly what drives this interpretation, the older members of the cast are left out, especially Tybalt.

Lez Brotherston’s set gives an ominous feeling of what a boarding school may feel with reflective bricks, metal bars and a cold grey metal cage which is entirely interacted with by the dancers. Surveying lights and sirens from Paule Constable add to the ominous feeling.

Although the set is extremely elaborate, the costumes are less so, especially the main costumes worn by the ensemble which allow for more movement but are in plain white. The adult cast, however, are more distinctive from the doctors to Tybalt and the guards, and the ensemble do have moments to make themselves more distinct such as the party where Romeo and Juliet’s paths cross.

Although the audience can tell who was Romeo and Juliet, Mercutio (Romeo’s friend, who in this version in a gay relationship with Balthasar) was not as distinctive apart from his relationship and when Tybalt kills him. There was also a questionable change to the ending in which Juliet accidentally kills Romeo due to a hallucination seeing Tybalt.

This is an enjoyable version of the play. Although not quite up to the high levels of other versions of this tale, Matthew Bourne and his team have come close and the message to adults about the way they treat youth comes across loud and clear.

By Stuart McComb

Feature image credit: Theatre Royal

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