On its opening night, Edinburgh’s Festival Theatre came alive with the revival of Matthew Bourne’s “Romeo & Juliet.” Often regarded as a master of family-friendly productions, Bourne’s latest interpretation delves deeper into the suppressed passions simmering beneath the surface, offering a fresh perspective on Shakespeare’s timeless tragedy.
The stage is transformed into the Verona Institute, an institution akin to an asylum for troubled youth, masterfully designed by Lez Brotherston. Its stark, white surfaces, imposing barred doors, and staircases leading to nowhere symbolize the suffocating conformity that envelopes its inhabitants. Yet, within these confines, the characters, clad in white, strive to break free with subtle acts of rebellion—flicks of the head, twitches of the arms, and forbidden embraces. Bourne’s message is crystal clear: love and desire are potent forces that challenge a society’s demand for conformity.
The chemistry between Romeo and Juliet is palpable from their first encounter at a glittering ball. As they circle each other under the shimmering glow of a glitter ball, their fellow inmates twist and contort to the rhythm of Prokofiev’s score, embodying forbidden passion. The balcony scene, brilliantly staged using ladders and walkways, is a masterpiece of love amidst adversity. Romeo and Juliet’s movements are a graceful rebellion against their oppressive surroundings, culminating in an unbroken kiss that defies societal norms.
In this radical interpretation, love and desire are portrayed as powerful and threatening to a conformist society. Danny Reuben’s portrayal of Tybalt, consumed by obsession and homophobia, becomes a catalyst for tragedy, while Ben Brown’s swaggering Mercutio adds depth to the narrative.
Since its premiere in 2019, Bourne has refined and clarified his work, with Cordelia Braithwaite returning to the role of Juliet. Her performance reveals new layers of suffering, showcasing Juliet’s resilience and vulnerability. Rory Mcleod’s Romeo brings a charming and goofy quality to the role, making their love story all the more captivating.
The supporting cast shines, with poignant moments like Leo McCorkindale’s Balthasar delivering a solo of mourning. The choreography captures a range of emotions, from initial joy to the eventual numbness induced by their environment.
Terry Davies’ adaptation of Prokofiev’s score, performed by the New Adventures orchestra, adds a hauntingly beautiful layer to the production, underscoring its emotional depth.
In conclusion, “Romeo & Juliet” by Matthew Bourne is a captivating exploration of love, desire, and societal repression. The Verona Institute’s stark setting serves as a powerful backdrop for the characters’ struggles, while the choreography brings their emotions to life. This production is a testament to the enduring relevance of Shakespeare’s tale and Bourne’s ability to infuse it with contemporary resonance. “Romeo & Juliet” is not to be missed, a haunting and compelling masterpiece that lingers in the hearts and minds of its audience long after the final curtain falls.
Reviewer: Nazaret Ranea
Reviewed: 19th September 2023
North West End UK Rating: