Northern Ballet’s Romeo and Juliet – Review – Sheffield Lyceum Theatre

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By Clare Jenkins, April 2024

It’s eight years since Northern Ballet’s costumes and sets for Romeo & Juliet were ruined by Boxing Day flooding. They’d been designed for Christopher Gable and Massimo Moricone’s critically acclaimed 1992 production of Prokofiev’s magnificent ballet, so the flood was devastating for the whole company.

Lez Brotherston’s sumptuous costumes have now been restored or copied, his classical-antiquity sets rebuilt, and the production (last staged in 2009) revived, first at their Leeds Grand base and now on tour. The result is a mesmerising two-and-a-half hours of consummate dancing and story-telling, unfolding among Romanesque pillars, atmospheric lighting and the occasional, highly effective, shower of silvery rain

The timelessness of Shakespeare’s tragedy of star-crossed love is skilfully captured. The trio of younger Montagues – Benvolio, Mercutio and Romeo – are the kind of cocky lads you might meet on a train going to a football match or a stag do. Mercutio in particular (Harris Beattie) is full of impudence and hot-headedness, thumbing his nose or doing pelvic thrusts to enrage his enemies.

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“Finely detailed”

Gangs of youths brawl in the streets, girls pulling each other’s hair and slapping faces, men punching and wrestling. Juliet, meanwhile (the entrancing Abigail Prudames), is in her bedroom, teasing her nurse (a full-bustled and good-humoured Heather Lehan, literally the butt of laddish jokes) and using her mirror like a smartphone, pouting and smiling as though taking a selfie. When Juliet’s parents enter with Count Paris (Jackson Dwyer), she blithely accepts him as her suitor, innocently ignorant of other possibilities.

Where the Montagues are dressed in colourful costumes – or, as in the case of both star-crossed lovers, virginal white -, their Capulet arch-enemies wear more sinister black with scarlet trim. Similarly, there’s a striking contrast in the choreography between Romeo and Juliet’s gently expressive pas de deux and the Capulets’ assertive, almost threatening, dances.

The acting is as finely detailed as the dancing. When Romeo (the superb and seemingly tireless Joseph Taylor) first sets eyes on Juliet at the masked ball, he is struck dumb by her charm and grace. It’s a true coup de foudre, the couple magnetically drawn together as the other dancers freeze-frame around them. Every look, every movement, captures the wonder of first love, joy and passion, as they tenderly explore each other’s faces and forms.

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The fight scenes, too, are stunning as Juliet’s cousin Tybalt (a haughty Harry Skoupas) kills Mercutio and is then himself killed by Romeo, who realises he will have to flee Verona.
Having been secretly married by Friar Lawrence, the lovers’ post-coital pas de deux is charged with intimacy, love and pain at their forthcoming separation. When Juliet’s parents insist on her marrying Paris, her head droops like a snowdrop and she flinches at his touch. Romeo shows equal sensitivity when he finds her apparently dead and, grief-stricken, dances with her lifeless body.

Throughout, the dancing is effortlessly elegant, energetic and flowing. If the ending seems rather abrupt, it’s a small quibble in a production that is both absorbing and affecting.

Finally, a word about the music. For most of the tour, this wonderful ballet score is played live and compellingly by the Northern Ballet Sinfonia, under the direction of Daniel Parkinson. However, come the autumn, due to financial cutbacks, they are due to be replaced by recordings – which can never be the same as having an orchestra performing live in the pit.

Romeo and Juliet is at Sheffield’s Lyceum Theatre until Saturday, then touring –
images: Emily Nuttall


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