Romeo and Juliet

Birmingham Hippodrome


Matthew Bourne’s very modern interpretation of Romeo and Juliet came to Birmingham Hippodrome last night.

This is a New Adventures  production with its heart in the right place. It features 100 young dancers and artists, making their debuts with the company with the unique twist that at each venue of the tour, they are joined by 6 local young dancers aged between 16-19 years of age.

It is testament to their talent that without looking at the programme, you’d have no clue who these young dancers were out of the group. The production also welcomes six young Associate Artists who are working closely with the creative team in choreography, set and costume design, lighting, sound, orchestration and conducting.

It’s a wonderful initiative, giving inspiration and experience to the next generation of talent.

Whilst Romeo and Juliet is a well-trodden tale, this production does a good job of giving it vim and vigour – in no small part due to the youth of the production. The storyline itself has a little bit of artistic licence; the most impressive thing being the fact that it takes on very modern issues such as mental health and sexual assault.

These are dealt with powerfully and sensitively and both the production’s landing page and the programme contain contact details for organisations to provide assistance for anyone affected by the themes on show. A serious issue dealt with in a superb way.

The recommended age range for this show is 12+ - I would say that is about right in general but would recommend that parents use their intuition as to whether their child is ready to explore some of the themes – this is not a standard love story, whilst the rape scene is not explicitly shown, it could still cause some distress. 


Andrew Monaghan as Romeo and Seren Williams  as Juliet. Pictures: Johan Persson

The show itself is cleverly staged, with an exceptionally versatile set from Lez Brotherston (a sterile looking asylum/institution – think lots of trendy metro tiles) which manages to provide boundless possibilities despite never changing. That it is so bare and clinical shines a light on the exactness of the dancing – there is nowhere to hide. The dancing is mesmeric at times, with Romeo and Juliet’s romance furnishing the audience with powerful yet tender moments aplenty. The company as a whole were utterly superb, with some of the group numbers truly enthralling.  

You don’t have to wait for Dance of the Knights (the Apprentice music for the uninitiated), it hits you full in the face and keeps on hitting you throughout the performance, its power amplified by the lean but live orchestra.

The production feels cinematic at times which is good news for those who cannot get a ticket as it will be available to view in cinemas – more details here:

Overall, this is a really enjoyable production. If I had one criticism it is plot related. For me, because of the setting – the audience really misses out on the conflict between the two factions (formerly the Montagues and the Capulets) as such there is nowhere near enough tension in the piece and the audience is not treated to this feeling that everything is gradually going terribly wrong for our star cross’d lovers. Yes, there are elements of the original story, such as the death of Tybalt and Mercutio but they’re too hard to distinguish with such diluted warring parties. The initial rape scene does not add anything to the story – and for me it is something it really has to do to merit inclusion. This no longer a story of warring families but of youth fighting against a system which oppresses them. There is nothing wrong with this direction, but it does have its consequences, namely you miss the tug of war between two families and the pair of young lovers. Sadly, you also miss the kick in the guts ending, instead settling for an ending which is merely sad rather than appallingly tragic.

This sounds like I am not a fan of the production – I am, I just think if you’re going to jimmy around with Shakespeare then you’ve got to have a good reason, to make it different isn’t quite enough.

If you take the piece as a standalone piece, then you’ve got a fab show on your hands. To 14-09-19.

Theo Clarke


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