Bristol Theatre Reviews

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

Matthew Bourne’s Romeo and Juliet Review:

Matthew Bourne didn’t bring his brand new production of Romeo and Juliet to Bristol, as part of a current UK tour. That didn’t stop us travelling across the bridge to the glorious Wales Millennium Centre, to catch the brand new work before it heads off to Sadler’s Wells for a four-week summer season.

‘Imagine a time when love is forbidden…’ the programme warns. The action takes place at The Verona Institute in the ‘not too distant future’.

The beauty of the somewhat ambiguous setting means that people can draw from their own lives what The Verona Institute is. This can weave a unique story inside each individual’s head based on life experience. Is it a prison? A Young Offenders Institute? Could it be a school? A psychiatric hospital?

Dystopian fiction is often very telling about our own time. We are currently living in an age where autistic children and adults are imprisoned and tortured within the UK. Extreme LGBT Conversion Therapy exists in some countries and in others, being gay is against the law.

I was undecided until the last part of the ballet which of the possible settings The Verona Institute was for me. Ultimately it doesn’t really matter. This retelling is the usual skilful Matthew Bourne production. At times it reminded me more strongly of Shakespeare drama than the traditional ballet does. There are echos of the Ghost from Hamlet, the Dance of the Knights is used to great effect, we feel the oppression through it. The Rev. Bernadette Laurence – Madelaine Brennan – is the light relief character. She’s the Nurse in Romeo and Juliet, the Porter in Macbeth.

The fun side of Mercutio – Ben Brown – is more pronounced against the adversity. The audience feels his death keenly. Imagine a time when love is forbidden? When it comes to LGBT issues, you don’t have to imagine. Ben Brown with Asher Rosenheim as Balthasar Mercutio’s Boyfriend, created an incredible performance.

This tragedy is a dark story which sustains psychological horror throughout. You can feel the audience brooding as they exit the theatre to Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance. There’s little trademark Matthew Bourne humour in this ballet, the clever acknowledgements to people’s peccadillos. It feels he is making a strong statement with the piece. A warning.

It’s not a war between two families, it’s a war on young people by the state. The two star-crossed lovers are less the victims of their families, instead, confined against their will in an institution that divides and conquers with oppression, violence and corrupting power. The metaphors throughout are endless.

All action takes place on Lez Brotherston’s prison set with ominous morgue tiles and lit by Paul Constable’s brooding lighting. There’s a separately marked entrance for Boys and Girls, much like the door lintels of the remaining crumbling Victorian school buildings still in existence.

At one point, the action on stage takes place in two separate rooms yet danced in the same space, flowing seamlessly with inspired choreography and just a few beds to complete the trick.

The dancers are skilfully cast, with six from different cities aged between 16 and 19 and currently in training performing at each venue with the New Adventures company.

Andrew Monaghan is Romeo, the young man who gives the distinct impression of being difficult for his Senator father Matt Petty. He is dropped off to the institute in a flurry of public activity, much like an entrance to the Big Brother house.

Seren Williams is Juliet, she’s experiencing bad things at the hands of Guard Tybalt, performed with horrific perfection by Danny Reubens.

Together, the pair create an electrifying performance which radiates out through the cast and echoing choreography.

Since discovering Matthew Bourne in 1994, I’ve found it increasingly hard to watch traditional ballet. As beautiful as it is, it just doesn’t have the energy, the excitement or pack the emotional punch that Bourne can pull from a score of classical music like this.

There’s so much energy and vitality in this specific production. It’s a story for young people told by young people and amongst the darkness is a love story which feels genuine, passionate and much like Shakespeare’s original play, timeless with no shelf life.

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