If 42nd Street was a complete Brexit and election diverting fun evening out by contrast Sir Matthew Bourne’s production of Romeo and Juliet, set in a dystopian near future Verona, was not. That is not to say that this show was not good, in fact I would rate it extremely good, it is just this was dark and indeed very dark.
I was lucky enough to have seen this show in Sadler’s Wells back in August and was curious to see how well it looked on-screen. This production is so far removed from the likes of Shakespeare, Zeffirelli or indeed West Side Story as to be almost unrecognisable. However the essential elements of young ultimately tragic lovers kept apart by unstoppable forces of a society railing against them remain as always.
You are not quite sure whether the setting is a prison or some sort of clinical hospital for the troubled but the starkness of the set, all black and white tiles, barred doors, fences and windows completely reinforces the thought that this is not a place to be.
Inmates, forced by a regime, into a drugged submission the feeling of despair is heightened by the darkness of Prokofiev’s musical score. From the off the production captures your attention and defies you not to pay attention. Not for the faint hearted Matthew Bourne’s dancers breathe new life into what preconceptions we hold about a story so well known.
Gone are the warring families. Instead when Romeo’s uncaring politician parents deliver him into such a place it is clear that he is a troubled boy full of ticks, repetitive movements and the inability to interact socially often associated with Autism.
The shock he encounters when delivered here is gut wrenching as he is surrounded by “inmates” white clad marching around pounding their fists, arms pulled up and stamping feet generating a frustrated energy. The young cast run and twist and fly around the stage in mesmerising movement. You feel for these “inmates” with a real visceral ferocity, that what is being heaped upon them is wrong and completely in-human.
The guards headed with brooding evil by Tybald (Dan Wright) control all aspects of life inside. You get the impression very quickly that predatory sexual advances are taken regularly and with impunity as is clear when Tybalt takes advantage of inmate Juliet.
As with previous Matthew Bourne productions there is a constant fluidity to all of the moves the dancers make. Flowing seamlessly together at times bodies seem to be almost one.
When Romeo (Paris Fitzpatrick) and Juliet (Cordelia Braithwaite) begin their romance at a dance social, once the guards leave the room, there is so much pent up sexual energy exuding from the inmates that you can cut the atmosphere. The strict, and very separate formalised dancing gives way to wild abandon. However right in the middle of the room stand our two titular characters in an almost chaste and innocent way oblivious to the sexual mayhem surrounding them.
Later after sneaking outside their passions overtake them in a sequence where, lips locked in an extended embrace, they move as one covering the entire stage. The integration and choreographed imagination of these two brilliant dancers was most certainly a highlight. Clearly in love their romance inspires a wonderful outpouring of support from fellow inmates.
Alas though, as a drunken Tybalt arrives it signals the onward downturn towards the inevitable tragic end which waits.
So the setting may have been different, and the interpretation was certainly full of invention but with a brilliant cast, working to extremely high standards, with classy choreography this was one not to be missed.