“This timeless story of forbidden love, repressed emotions and teenage discovery is no better told than by the young.”
First things first, this is Matthew Bourne’s Romeo + Juliet, and there are so many changes to the original version. Shakespeare scholars may question ‘why’ the story changes as Romeo and Juliet is supposed to be about power, corruption, gang violence, young love and tragic consequences, and the effects on the people that become trapped in that crossfire. So yes, Matthew Bourne’s take on it does vary ever so much from the original storyline.
Matthew Bourne’s Romeo + Juliet is a show with a unique take on the Shakespeare classic. Told with stunning and classic dance routines and a perfect music score by Sergei Prokofiev, it drew a considerable and what seemed like a sellout crowd at Wales Millennium Centre. The set was simple and beautifully white, depicting the ‘Verona Institution’, which is a far cry from the story of Romeo and Juliet that audiences would all be aware of. This variation to the story is that it is set in a secure unit where mental health medication and treatment are used to keep these emotionally and volatile young people in check. The setting is an interesting and thought-provoking choice seeing as mental health is an important issue.
The dancing is brilliantly executed, and while the premise that it is society keeping these two young lovers apart rather than their families is modern and acceptable, the plot appears underdeveloped and is missing a few of the lovable characters that make Romeo and Juliet the classic it is. Romeo and Juliet demonstrates a lesson about feuds and the effect they have on society, and the prices we pay for them. Something is missing from this production, something crucial, I guess it was the absence of any real resolution at the end, and above all, a moral lesson, which is what you find in all of Shakespeare’s plays. The last and third act is way too short for the audience to leave the performance satisfied, and it seems entirely concerned around the death scene, which still tragic, it is as far as you can get from the double suicide element present in the original.
You cannot fault the musical score or the dancers who at moments, gave very emotional and highly skilled performances. However, it was difficult at times due to the lack of character development and the ability to identify key supporting characters dramatically, as this impacts on the audience’s emotional connection with the scenes depicted. It also felt like some of the dance routines involving Romeo and Juliet, even though their dancing was elegant and faultless, also did seem to go on a little too long.
Overall, Matthew Bourne’s production is a brilliant, well-executed show with stunning dance routines, which the cast deliver with talent, enthusiasm and vibrancy. If you can watch the performance, forgetting everything you know about Romeo and Juliet, then it is an excellent dance performance. Unfortunately, if you have come for any resemblance of the play that the title proclaims, Shakespeare connoisseurs might well feel like they’ve been short-changed.
Matthew Bourne’s Romeo + Juliet will be available at Wales millennium centre until the 22nd of June.