Breathless intensity does not sit easily with detail and complexity in the normal order of the world, but once again choreographer Matthew Bourne has ripped up the rulebook to give us a completely stunning performance on the Norwich Theatre Royal stage.
We all wistfully remember our first love, and the overwhelming mix of passion and anguish that inevitably marks the transition from child to adult, but it is rare to see this turmoil convincingly presented in any art form. Occasional glimpses maybe, Ingmar Bergman’s ‘Summer with Monika’ comes to mind for me. Matthew Bourne makes the love between the two teenagers dominate this production, even while adding much of the complexity drawn from Shakespeare’s original work.
The impressive set takes us into some kind of detention centre – The Verona Institute – where young people are locked in and threatened by guards and staff. Juliet (Cordelia Braithwaite) is particularly harassed by macho guard Tybalt (Dan Wright), a musclebound and tattooed monster dressed in black, in contrast to all the young internees who are in virginal white. Romeo (Paris Fitzpatrick) is delivered as a gawky and decidedly mischievous youngster to the institute by his rich but uncaring parents, Senator and Mrs Montague (Matt Petty and Daisy May Kemp). He is immediately ragged and taunted by the other young inmates but they join together against the common enemy of the guards. An exuberant Mercutio (Danny Collins) is particularly lively in kicking against the authority of the guards while at the same time developing his own love for his boyfriend Balthasar (Jackson Fisch). Tybalt relentlessly taunts and tortures Mercutio, with tragic consequence.
The familiar Prokofiev score is reworked to give a distinctive sound to this production which fits the radically recreated dance that Bourne uses to tell this dramatic tale. No balletic tottering about on tiptoes, but a stage constantly filled with writhing fluid movement that gives us an account of human emotion far more eloquent than words could ever achieve. You would need to see this show many times to capture all the details of the choreography as many small sub-plots are enacted across a busy stage. What appears to be a simple set at first is used to take the dance, movement and action into three dimensions and to present simultaneous but separated scenes as the divided lovers mirror each others anguish.
Romeo+Juliet remains a tragedy, but the overwhelming impression on the audience member is the story of the joy and thrill of young love, to the point where one national reviewer referred to the work as an ‘epic snog’. This apt phrase shows us that Bourne has not forgotten what it is to be young, where rules are yet to be understood, let alone obeyed. The work is incredibly sexy without ever needing to seem explicit, even though we follow the couple from first kiss to consummation. While we may recognise the outcome, Bourne gives a further dramatic and shocking twist to the end of the tale. As with so much of this work the complexity of the dance can deceive the eye, so always watch the action closely!
Production company New Adventures live up to their name with this work. Everyone involved is at the top of their game, resulting in a landmark show which will delight anyone who enjoys dance. A classic and well known story gives a framework for a bold and brave performance which is visually stunning, with set, costume and lighting all enhancing the modern approach of the choreographer. The two principals are superb, but every member of the on-stage company create a magical setting for their affair to be set out before us so well. This story is all about falling in love, and you will love it.
© Julian Swainson 2019