Matthew Bourne’s Romeo and Juliet – Review – Bradford Alhambra
By Sandra Callard, May 2019
Yet another of the seemingly endless versions of Romeo and Juliet has premiered at the Alhambra Theatre in Bradford. The legendary choreographer Matthew Bourne has produced an explosively radical interpretation of the famous story which teeters on the edge of any kind of relation to the ‘original’. To modern minds the original will always be Shakespeare’s, but in reality the story stretches back into the mists of time, was borrowed by Shakespeare, and is an eternal and everlasting theme throughout the world.
In this new and startling production we have a company of young people housed in tight security in what could be a detention centre, a mental hospital or a prison for young people. It is clear from the start that the Montagues have an unruly son, Romeo, who needs treatment, as they offload him into this institution. Here he meets another inmate, Juliet, from the house of Capulet, and the love story begins.
The lovers are danced flawlessly by Andy Monaghan and Seren Williams, and their beautiful and tinglingly effective portrayal of a tortured and hopeless love is quite simply breathtaking. They move together seamlessly and generate a maturity and experience that belies their youthful appearance.
“Emotive and fervent”
The central theme of the story has always been the outstanding feud between the houses of Montague and Capulet, but this is omitted completely by Bourne. Instead of the parents of the two houses being horrified by the developing relationship between Romeo and Juliet, it is the authorities of the institution who demand their separation. Strangely this does not seem to matter as far as the story is concerned; what does matter is their overpowering need for each other.
The relationship between Mercutio and Benvolio, always true friends, is given a sexual twist that works amazingly well. Ben Brown and Joao Carolino are perfectly cast, and the death scene of Mercutio is emotive and fervent as Benvolio loses the one thing that makes his incarceration bearable.
In Bourne’s new production Tybalt, Mercutio’s murderer, is cast as a jailer and an abuser of Juliet, characteristics which lay easily with the persona of Tybalt, and which are portrayed with true venom by Danny Reubens. He is a brilliant and authentic Tybalt, who we hate on sight, and Reubens brings him alive magnificently.
The set is stark but clever, allowing for numerous appearances and exits in a smooth and deceptive way. The opening scene is long, bewildering and executed with skill and grace by the sad inmates of the hostel. It is unnerving in a subtle and insinuating way which begs the question – is this really Romeo and Juliet?
But Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures dance company has thrilled, shocked and entertained an ever-expanding audience of admirers for over thirty years, and theatre goers have grown to expect the unexpected at any of his productions, and here we have it in spades. Purists may struggle with this drastically different interpretation of a well-loved story, but stay with it and a tattered beauty emerges, not least through the peerless dancing of this primarily youthful cast.
Bourne’s acclaimed drive to seek out and nurture the talents of the country’s young dancers is nowhere more evident than in this production. By searching out the best from each locality where New Adventures perform, Bourne has given young dancers, in this case from Bradford, a chance to perform under the direction of one of the world’s greatest choreographers, and dance with superb and experienced artists. This, in addition to watching an energising, beautiful and enterprising production, is surely a win/win situation of mammoth proportions.