romeo fight

A high body count as the Prince orders an end to street brawls  in 14th century Verona. Picture: Bill Cooper

Romeo and Juliet

Birmingham Royal Ballet

Birmingham Hippodrome


The last time I saw this production it was the now retired Iain Mackay in the title role, this time, Brandon Lawrence has stepped up to the plate to take on the role of Romeo.

In the past he has looked a competent, athletic dancer but here he has added refinement to his repertoire making dancing look easy and effortless, always in control and never rushed. The best I have seen him dance.

He was matched by Céline Gittens who is a delightful Juliet, first as a giggly teenager, then showing her despair at the proposed marriage to Paris (Feargus Campbell) arranged by her father, Lord Capulet (Jonathan Payn).

We see her joy at her dangerous romance and secret wedding to Romeo, a Montague, creating a union of two families at war. Then the desolation as she awakes from her self-induced coma to find her Romeo dead beside her

Romeo and Juliet whether play, ballet, or even West Side Story, depends upon the relationship between the teen lovers.

In the play the key moment is when Romeo first sees Juliet, ending with  

Did my heart love till now? forswear it, sight!

For I ne'er saw true beauty till this night.

That is the moment when the stage is set, when the pair have to carry us with them.

In the ballet the key moment is the balcony scene and choreographer Kenneth MacMillan’s beautiful pas de deux.

But it is not just a dance, the pair have to make us believe in them and their love or the rest is lost, it becomes just dance, and Lawrence and Gittens did not disappoint in a joyous dance in the moonlight, with their passion confirmed after their night of consummation with another joyful duet before, finally, we have the tragic pas de morte as Romeo finds what he believes is his dead Juliet in the family crypt.

Fussing around Juliet is the nurse, played by rising star Ruth Brill, a first artist with a growing reputation as a choreographer She bustles about in a very matronly and delightfully homely character performance.

From the seedier end of Verona we also get the three harlots, danced by Yvette Knight, Maureya Lebowitz and Delia Mathews, who join Romeo and his friends Mercutio, danced by Tzu-Chao Chou and Benvolio, Yasuo Atsji, in some crowd pleasers.

celene and brandon

Céline Gittens as Juliet and Brandon Lawrence as Romeo. Picture: Nick Pate

Then there are the warring families. In West Side Story it is the Jets and Sharks, here the Montagues and Capulets with some stirring fight scenes Errol Flynn would be proud off, and with a body count high enough to keep the local undertaker in luxury.

 The Capulet’s self appointed enforcer, with a hair trigger, or in this case, sword, is Tybalt with Rory Mackay turning in a nicely evil performance

A glance is all it needs to start a fight between the somewhat psycho Tybalt and Romeo’s friend Mercutio, with Tybalt, sneakily thrusting his sword through his opponent as he spoke to Romeo with his back turned, which, even in the 1300s, was hardly seen as sporting behavour.

Mercutio is mortally wounded and sets about dying . . . and dying . . . and dying . . . any longer and he would have still been breathing his last as the next performance started!

Romeo, in a rage of vengeance, fights and kills Tybalt, who does the decent thing and dies a bit quicker – people in the audience have trains to catch after all -

The Prince, Escalus, a regal appearance by ballet master Dominic Antonucci, had already warned the two families to make peace and confiscated their swords – so that went well then – and now, with the latest transgression, Romeo is banished – setting in train the tragic events.

Unaware that Juliet is now Mrs Montague her family set about arranging her marriage to Paris, so in despair and desperation she enlists the help of Friar Laurence (Wolfgang Stollwitzer – who also plays Lord Montague) who gives her a potion to feign death – which works a treat, even it doesn’t say much for the Capulet’s doctor.

Romeo does not get the message though, so, like everyone else, he believes she is dead and enters the crypt to make sure it is true, then, distraught, kills himself.

Juliet awakes, finds both him dead and a dagger . . . and the tragedy is complete

Shakespeare’s classic love story works on many levels, lovers from warring sides, be it black and white, protestant and catholic, Muslim and Jew, or, as West Side Story had it, Polish-American and Puerto Rican – which perhaps is why it still resonates with so many people 400 years on.

With such a well-known story, as a ballet it is pure emotion, a classic story in dance helped by Prokofiev’s sweeping score, including the recurring theme of the dramatic Dance of the Knights, as usual played with glorious colour and depth by the Royal Ballet Sinfonia under BRB Music Director,Koen Kessels.

The setting, by Paul Andrews, is pure Italian Renaissance, with the rich golds and browns found in paintings of the time along with costumes, in rich velvets.

John B. Read’s lighting is muted, to give a hint of gold, lighting, once again reminiscent of paintings of the period.

A classic love story, beautifully danced . . . what more could you ask for. To 28-06-18

Roger Clarke


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