Updated: May 28, 2021
Directed and choreographed by Matthew Bourne, in collaboration with artistic team
New orchestrations of the Prokofiev score by Terry Davies
A New Adventures company production
Lowry Lyric, Salford
11 June 2019 - 15 June 2019; 1hr 50min inc 20min interval
It’s not as if we didn’t know how it would end. The entwined bodies are centre stage at the very start, for anyone not familiar with the play or the films or the ballet. But still the tension is almost unbearable as the sheer youth and raw passion of Matthew Bourne’s cast drives this dystopian Romeo and Juliet.
No Montagues v Capulets here, but young people against the system, confined in a repressive institution. Senator and Mrs Montague make an appearance, to dump their “difficult” son into the Verona Institute. The nature of this shadowy establishment isn't made clear. Older audience members will recognise the Boys and Girls signs in white tile from post-war primary schools, while the hospital beds and utilitarian chairs echo the mental health wards of many a horror film. The stylised marching and salutes add more than a note of Hitler Youth.
The company for this production is made up of almost 100 young people in total, with six cast locally for each venue (here seamlessly joining the rest of the ensemble).
The removal of the family feud from this interpretation allows the power of a first and overwhelming young love to carve a passionate, blazing trail through the lives of everyone on stage.
And of course young love is all about sex. We see two young couples (there is a parallel tragic love affair, between Mercutio and Balthazar, alongside that of Romeo and Juliet) quivering with sexual energy; dancers at the Institute’s prom night knocking out the lights and moving from vertical to horizontal as soon as the grown-ups disappear, and the longest and most choreographed kiss covering the floor and scaling the balcony. Matthew Bourne pulls no punches.
On one or two occasions all this youthful vigour loses the precision we expect from contemporary dance as opposed to musical theatre. The occasional echo of West Side Story, if deliberate, is oddly distracting.
Prowling and stalking amidst the young people is the ultimate macho security guard. Underneath his swaggering, bullying exterior, it is suggested Tybalt (Dan Wright) is also in love and suffering, but the audience will have none of it – at the curtain he was greeted with a rousing cheer and approving boos like the very best of baddies. That is not to take away from Wright's performance; his looming physical presence stands in stark contrast to the juvenile physiques of the young inmates of the Institute, and we understood their fear.
Daisy May Kemp as the Rev Bernadette Laurence was a joy; a special mention for the costume team for the Rev’s inspired cardigan. And plaudits too for the orchestra – just 15 members, most playing more than one instrument to create what is rightly described as an intimate, simple and at times fragile palette of sound.
The cast varies throughout the tour; for our performance Romeo was danced by Paris Fitzpatrick and Juliet by Cordelia Braithwaite.