Review: Matthew Bourne’s Romeo and Juliet at Wales Millennium Centre

Matthew Bourne’s Romeo and Juliet

“this production of Romeo and Juliet was sublime”

Prior to last night I had never seen, read or studied any version of Shakespeare’s most famous and classic love story Romeo and Juliet (besides the animated Gnomeo and Juliet), and had never seen a ballet. This made Sir Matthew Bourne’s Romeo and Juliet last night at Wales Millennium Centre, a true first in many areas for me.

I was worried I wouldn’t understand the story, but I realised very quickly to believe in the critics in that Sir Matthew Bourne is a wonderful storyteller. Through physical movement, relationships between characters, facial expression and energy (both soft and dynamic), a beautifully tragic story was told.

The “Montague” cast of Matthew Bourne’s Romeo and Julier
Credit: Johan Persson

As little as I did know about the classic story of Romeo and Juliet, I do know that this adaptation made some quite noticeable changes. The setting was one in the not too distant future in a location called “Verona Institute” – which appeared to be somewhat a mental asylum. There were no Montagues or Capulets, and instead the division was between the young inmates – all dressed in white, and their prison guards.

The character of Tybalt was the main prison guard, and rather than Juliet’s brother, instead was her sexual abuser. The dance between Juliet and Tybalt, respectively played by Seren Williams and Danny Reubens, which portrayed her struggle against him was expertly done, making it at times difficult to watch, yet I could not look away.

Andrew Monaghan and Danny Reubens in Matthew Bourne’s Romeo and Juliet
Credit: Johan Persson

Romeo, played by Andrew Monaghan, and Juliet meet at a party, similarly to the original version, and the main dance duet between them that followed was exquisite and stunning. The choreography was as passionate and energetic as it was soft and beautiful. The well-known balcony scene remained, and I felt myself in awe at their talent as they managed to portray such beautiful love through a well-choreographed dance.

Seren Williams, Andrew Monaghan and the cast of Matthew Bourne’s Romeo and Juliet
Credit: Johan Persson

As the pair returned to their respective “boys” and “girls’” dormitories, their fellow peers appear to mock them/ask questions about their encounter with the other, which really reminded me of the song Summer Nights from Grease. I loved this moment and not sure if it was intended, but I certainly found it enjoyable and humorous at least!

This production was indeed quite dark, made so by Prokofiev’s score and the setting in comparison to what I expect other versions of Romeo and Juliet are like, but I liked this twist; being set in a mental asylum of sorts, and some of the scenes such as all the inmates having their monotonous exercise, medicine and bed-time routines made the show even more eerie and intriguing.

The “Montague” cast of Matthew Bourne’s Romeo and Juliet
Credit: Johan Persson

As like the original production, Tybalt kills Mercutio, played expertly by Ben Brown, in a power struggle towards the end of the first act. His gay lover Balthasar, played by Asher Rosenheim, mourns his death and nearly brought me to tears. Act two contains more differences from the original that I don’t want to mention for fear of spoilers.

I am neither a Romeo and Juliet expert, nor a huge Shakespeare fan, and while I loved the changes that were made to the original story, I fear that those who are in the aforementioned categories may not enjoy this production so much. It is a great story, brilliantly told and unbelievably gripping, but in my opinion, is not the story of Romeo and Juliet that so many know and love.

New Adventures’ production of Romeo and Juliet features an entirely young cast, which I feel was a brilliant decision as it only increases the vulnerability of the characters. Even more so, six younger dancers are chosen for each venue, and I can honestly say it was impossible to know which were the “professional” cast, who perform all venues, and which were the younger generation just for this leg of the tour; all the dancers in the ensemble merge perfectly, interact wonderfully and dance superbly.

I never thought of myself as a dance enthusiast, but Sir Matthew Bourne’s amazing storytelling may have changed me for the better because this production of Romeo and Juliet was sublime.

Romeo and Juliet plays the Wales Millennium Centre until 22 June 2019, before heading to London, Norwich, Birmingham and more, finishing on 12 October 2019.


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