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Review: Matthew Bourne’s Romeo and Juliet, at Sadler’s Wells

15 August, 2019 — By Howard Loxton

Cordelia Braithwaite and Paris Fitzpatrick in Matthew Bourne’s Romeo and Juliet. Photo: Johan Persson

MATTHEW Bourne shied away from creating a version of Romeo and Juliet, waiting until he found a truly different treatment but he’s now succeeded using Sergei Prokofiev’s music reordered and rescored for a smaller orchestra but still hauntingly effective.

His reimagining sets it in the near future in the Verona Institute, a white-tiled establishment that seems to be some kind of psychiatric clinic or asylum, where teenagers are locked in attended by white-gowned medics and watched by black-uniformed guards.

Juliet, beautifully danced by Cordelia Braithwaite, is already an inmate and has attracted the unwanted attention of one of the guards even before his parents sign in Paris Fitzpatrick’s disoriented Romeo. They fall for each other so heavily the others make fun of them; then things turn nasty. Guard Tybalt violates Juliet. The inmates turn on him, Mercutio gets shot, Tybalt throttled and the story unfolds with even more dramatic changes to the familiar version with traumatised Juliet haunted by the image of Tybalt (powerful dancing from Dan Wright).

Lez Brotherston’s deliberately colourless set suggests multiple locations with doorways sometimes barred and sometimes open. It often seems a prison with only Daisy May Kemp’s priest, a mixture of Shakespeare’s Nurse and Friar Lawrence, seeing the patients as people not as inmates (in contrast she also dances Romeo’s mean-spirited mother).

An already young company is joined by six local teenagers, selected from 400 auditioned (different at each performance venue). The choreography, even the Institution’s calisthenics, is inspired by youth, especially when the keepers leave the disco and there is an instant change to raunchy action.

Highlights of Bourne’s dance invention include Mercutio and friends undressing Romeo to put him into institutional white, a brief but eloquent solo for Balthasar (Jackson Fish) reacting to his lover Mercutio’s death, a passionate passage for Romeo and Juliet ascending stairs and rolling across the stage with lips still sealed in a long-lasting kiss and a moving final duet with Juliet supporting a dead Romeo.

Medicated and regimented, we see the inmates in group therapy sessions briefly dancing out their stories but Bourne gives no clear explanation of what is happening in Verona Institute; he leaves it to the audience to work out.

On press night, Reece Causton, dancing Mercutio, was injured not long into the performance. Ben Brown, called to the theatre while the audience waited, took over.

UNTIL AUGUST 31
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