Juliet and Romeo

Mayowa Ogunnaike as Juliet and Subhash Viman Gorania as Romeo. Pictures: Brian Slater

Romeo + Juliet

Rosie Kay Dance Company

Birmingham Hippodrome


Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is not only, arguably, the greatest love story ever told, it has become a blueprint for all manner of tales of conflict from race, to blood feuds, to religious tension and just plain old time honoured enemies.

The original play from the 1590s told of “two households, both alike in dignity, In fair Verona,” the Capulets and the Montagues, with a feud older than any member of the living families.

But at its essence it is a tale of teenage lovers from different sides in a clash that has no logic beyond history. Over the years for Capulets and Montagues you can read Muslim and Jew, Palestinian and Israeli, Catholic and Protestant, black and white . . . it has been set in Gaza, Ireland and even apartheid era South Africa.

Set it among Puerto Ricans and Polish Americans on the Upper West Side of 1950’s New York and you have a seminal production which changed the face of musicals. The tale of star cross’d lovers has seen at least three ballets, around 25 operas and is the most filmed play of all time.

And now it is a love letter, Rosie Kay’s love letter to Birmingham as she told the audience at the world premiere of her very personal contribution to the Romeo and Juliet story.

Here our lovers are on opposite sides of a turf war with the M’s gang recruiting Romeo, danced wonderfully by Subhash Viman Gorania, while Juliet, equally delightfully danced by Mayowa Ogunnaike, excited by her exam success, arrives as the C’s, led by her brother Ty, are strutting their stuff after finding the M’s encroaching on their turf.

Ty being the modern Tybalt, danced with a nice touch of arrogant threat by David Devyne.

All Shakespeare’s characters are in there with the Nurse, in this case Angel danced by Iona McGuire, Paris, and his unrequited love for Juliet, danced by Dan Baines, while the leader of the C’s is Merc danced by Deepraj Singh, who has the sort of come on then, think you’re hard, show me what you’ve got arrogance that you know is going to wind Ty up to breaking point – Merc being today’s Mercutio, Romeo’s friend.

Ayesha Fazal is Rosa, the Rosaline from Verona, who flirts with Romeo to entice him into the gang, but once in, dumps him. We are to find later she is secretly crossing the divide and having an affair with Ty.

Once in, Romeo is initiated by Merc and Ben, Patrick Ross Webster, with the weapon of choice for today’s gangs, the knife, inflicting a series of cuts on the newbie, creating a blood, or at least bloodied brother.

Adding to the contemporary feel we have small drug deals in corners of the stage amid a general feeling of . . . nothingness, life without purpose, just misplaced pride and posturing.

We have the masked ball, or in these days more likely a rave, when Romeo first spots Juliet, his “O, she doth teach the torches to burn bright!” moment.


Pointing the finger as Romeo,Subhash Viman Gorania, looks upon the dead Merc, Deepraj Singh.

From that point there is an inevitability, even LJ, danced by Harry Ondrak-Wright, had seen a doom ridden vision of what was to come at the start.

Ty and Merc ‘s constant sparring eventually erupts with Merc stabbed and Romeo’s fatal struggle with Ty adding to the fatalities in a world where life's value is falling.

Juliet, dragged away from the fight scene by Paris, takes drugs to feign death to escape him. It sort of works and she ends up alive but seemingly dead in the morgue. There her two lovers one in reality, one in hope, clash and in the struggle with Romeo, Paris is fatally knifed.

It is hardly a spoiler to relate that a distraught Romeo stabs himself moments before Juliet awakes and, finding her Romeo dead, she takes the knife and takes her own life.

O happy dagger! This is thy sheath; there rust, and let me die.

Romeo stirs just enough as the pair breathe their last for the star cross'd lovers to have one last moment together as death embraces them, true to Shakespeare's telling.

“For never was a story of more woe than this of Juliet and her Romeo.”

Added to the atmosphere is music from Annie Mahtani which ranges from techno, to dramatic to a lyrical and long pas de deux beautifully danced by eponymous lovers.

The setting by Louis Price is stark and urban, a series of skeletal towers, scaffolding-like, topped by what appear to be satellite dishes, a modern urban jungle – apart, that is, from a series of old gold pennant banners, two layers, which dropped from the flies at the rear of the stage during the party scene, giving a strangely mediaeval theme, especially when they moved though the light, a nod perhaps to Prince Escalus’ Verona.

Mike Gunning’s lighting, like the set, is stark and effective pinpointing moments and characters while Sash Keir’s costumes are both contemporary and vivid, the uniforms of disaffected youth.

dead juliet

The walking dead Ty, David Devyne, left, and Merc, Deepraj Singh lay the drugged Juliet Mayowa Ogunnaike to rest in the morgue.


The modern theme is enhanced throughout by crackling police and emergency service messages relating fights, assaults, a riot, a suicide . .  and then, at the close, there are the voices of Brummies as the stabbings are marked by the modern memorial to the dead, bouquets tied to railings that slowly fade with the memories, voices which included my son, incidentally.

The voices complained the police should do something, that knife crime has to stop, that they are just youngsters, voices with opinions but no solutions, but Rosie Kay never set out to solve the problem.

She has worked with local schools and West Midlands Police since around 2015 and from that what she has done is taken Shakespeare’s story, her favourite play she tells us, and condensed it into contemporary dance.

She has moved it from the mediaeval feuding of two eminent Verona families to the turf wars on Birmingham’s streets with multi-ethnic youngsters caught up in gangs that act as proxy families and give a purpose to an otherwise aimless life. We see the bravado, the fear of showing weakness, the fear of . . . life, violence, assault. A life of constant anxiety, never at peace.

The result is a telling piece which is much more than just a dance piece, or a tale of teen love, it is also a spotlight on society and theatre doesn’t get much more powerful than that.

A few words of advice though, the opening can be very confusing, even if you know Shakespeare’s play well, so, if you get the chance to see the show, read the synopsis in the programme when it will all then fall into place.

If you don’t know the story of Romeo and Juliet, then it is even more essential you read the programme. You might enjoy Romeo + Juliet as a piece of modern dance, but knowing the story it is telling, it becomes so much more.

Roger Clarke


Romeo + Juliet will return to Birmingham Hippodrome next month as part of Birmingham Royal Ballet's Carlos Curates, 14-16 October, in R&J Reimagined, a double bill with Radio and Juliet, choreographed by Edward Clug to the music of Radiohead.

Rosie Kay

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