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Matthew Bourne’s Romeo+Juliet

Wolverhampton Grand


Nutcracker! Swan Lake, The Car Man. All classic ballets and operas that over the years have become almost as famous for their Matthew Bourne interpretations as the original productions.

Though recent years have seen a departure of sorts from the New Adventures formula that cemented Matthew Bourne as one of Britain's most successful choreographers, (classic Ballet plus classic score multiplied by a modern twist), this year's revival of 2019’s Romeo + Juliet is very much a return to form.

In fact I’d say it’s the most Matthew Bourne Matthew Bourne has been for a while. And that is really where the strengths of this piece lie. Bourne has an unmatched ability to get inside of the music, in this case the towering Prokofiev score, and find choreography that compliments the score so directly it almost feels like the two were made for each other. The ball scene, where our star cross’d lovers meet for the first time is a perfect example of this. 

Set somewhere in the near future, in some sort of youth facility (Bourne deliberately leaves this up to interpretation) the young inmates/patients attend a party, complete with glittering disco ball thrown by the kindly Rev. Bernadette Laurence.

It’s immediately funny and awkward, full of repressed teenaged desire and angst. Then as the tension in the music builds we see the ensemble start to move as one. When that iconic theme comes back in (The Dance of the Knights, you know the one that is now associated with the phrase with a reality tv series) and the inmates all dance together as one hormonally driven mob; it is a powerful moment.

The fight stances, the soldier-like movements, the moving together like an organised pack are all deliberate to show us that while there may be no warring Montagues and Capulets in this version these young people are still very much fighting a war against oppression, mental health, even the guards, that will end in the tragedy we expect from this story. 


Another wonderful scene comes in Romeo and Juliet’s first pas de deux, danced with youthful exuberance by Paris Fitzpatrick and Cordelia Braithewaite. If I had to sum up the theme of this reworked Balcony scene I would say it has to be “lightness” The two move with such incredible ease, across the floor, up and down staircases, both lifting and supporting each other, you almost believe that they are completely weightless.

And yet this scene is not without the signature Matthew Bourne humour, in the form of an exceptionally long kiss (The longest in choreographic history actually!) It's silly and lustful, not to mention technically difficult for the performers but it captures the spirit of young love that defines Romeo and Juliet. 

As with many Matthew Bourne productions we as an audience are expected to leave our expectations at the door. Whatever we think we know about a story, we can be sure it will be retold in a new way. As Bourne himself says “please don’t look for a textbook re-telling of the story.”

And this is where Romeo + Juliet somewhat misfires. As mentioned earlier, this version has no specific time period and neither is its location made explicitly clear. The bright but bleak set design by Lez Brotherston hints at some old fashioned asylum type detention facility.

The white tiled walls, dark looking corridors, even the balcony that becomes an observation deck are all suggestive but not conclusive. Without the Montague vs Capulet plot point from the original, character motivations are not always clear and I do think this storyline would have benefited from a plot that is more focused rather than letting us make up our own minds.

Juliet’s descent into psychosis in Act II would have been much more impactful if it could have threaded through the scenes of Act I. This, coupled with a rather short Act II meant that unfortunately this version of Romeo + Juliet didn't quite hit the emotional climax we’ve all come to expect. 

That is not to say this production is without merit and the biggest congratulations should be awarded to its cast. Supporting the exceptionally talented leads is an ensemble made up mainly of young dancers, five of whom are making their professional debut on this tour. Bourne wisely chose a company of young performers to tell a story of young love and life and each one shows they are committed to the vision with youthful energy, spirit and enthusiasm. 

Janine Henderson


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