Matthew Bourne’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ review

Dance, Ballet
4 out of 5 stars
Romeo and Juliet, Sadler's Wells, Matthew Bourne
© Johan Persson

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

The super-choreographer gives the classic ballet a Bourne identity

After ‘Swan Lake’, ‘The Nutcracker’, ‘Sleeping Beauty’ and ‘Cinderella’, another of ballet’s big beasts has received the Matthew Bourne treatment. The choreographer has shaken up Shakespeare’s tragedy and Prokofiev’s mighty score to come up with one of his most appealing works.

It wouldn’t be Bourne without a radical revamp, so Romeo meets Juliet in a brutal ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’-style psychiatric hospital-cum-borstal, evoked with beautiful simplicity by Lez Brotherston’s set of cold white tiles and ringing metal staircases. Romeo (Paris Fitzpatrick) is dumped there by his politician parents, who don’t have time to care about him; Juliet (Cordelia Braithwaite) is trying and failing to escape the clutches of the predatory prison guard Tybalt (an intimidating Dan Wright).

Erasing the family-feud element leaves us with a tale of youth against authority – which could seem trite but works because of the explosive energy Bourne’s young cast brings to the stage. Around a core of company members, Bourne has brought in dozens of newly minted dancers, some still in training, and they grab this opportunity.

Whether stomping out their anger and frustration to the Dance of the Knights, writhing around at the institutional disco, grilling the star-crossed lovers in their separate dorms, ‘Grease’-style, about the night before or massing for Tybalt’s grisly end, they infuse dynamism and intensity into the well-drilled ensemble work. (The fact no one appeared fazed when press night had to be halted for Ben Brown to replace an injured Reece Causton as Mercutio spoke volumes about their professionalism too.)

Fitzpatrick and Braithwaite, meanwhile, are a superb lead pair. Their balcony scene duet is a truly touching lip-locked tumble of desperation; teenage lust mixed with a longing for the affection that both characters have been starved of. In their second, sombre pas de deux, as tragedy looms, they wear a hard-earned maturity, carrying the weight of their travails with elegantly judged weariness.

It’s a credit to them and to Bourne’s storytelling – here allowed to breathe in a stripped-back structure – that you believe in the journey they have been through between those two points, and in the horrifying, blood-drenched finale.

By: Siobhan Murphy

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