Tuesday, October 3

Matthew Bourne’s Romeo & Juliet – Hull New Theatre

Whenever a ballet comes to town, Hull’s theatregoers go to town, ensuring full venues without fail.

And Tuesday evening at the Hull New Theatre was no exception when Matthew Bourne’s Romeo + Juliet performed to a decent-sized crowd.

I must have watched dozens of ballets during my reviewing career, yet I still can’t put a name to any of the dance steps. It’s the sheer spectacle of the genre that appeals to me – the costumes, music, make-up, stage settings and, of course, the dancers, all combine to create the perfect form … of entertainment.

Luckily for me – and sparing my reviewing blushes – this very different production had none of the steps usually performed in a ballet. Also, away from the ballet norm, there wasn’t a whisper of a tutu or pink satin ballet pump.

And, apart from one or two scenes, the costumes were mainly white on the night.

The stark stage setting – white tiles, metal staircases and balcony, all lit by cold lighting – mirrored the plain costumes, and hardly change throughout the performance.

We are given free rein to decide what this building and its occupants represent. I decided it was a young offenders’ institute. The similarly clad “inmates” seemed robotic in their movements under the watchful eye of guards and medical staff, but partied when their backs were turned.

Matthew Bourne’s modern take on Shakespeare’s timeless story, places the young lovers in the Verona Institute.

On entering the establishment, Romeo (Paris Fitzpatrick) is soon stripped of his outer gear in very amusing, and acrobatic, scenes; to be dressed just like all the others, in white.

Very soon he finds his Juliet (Monique Jonas) who is being pestered by the guard, Tybalt (Sam Archer), and who turns out to be Romeo’s rival for Juliet’s affections. With tragic results.

The two young lovers happen to belong to opposite feuding Italian families, so are risking everything to be together.

All the young offenders are stunned into a kind of torpor after witnessing one of their own commit a gruesome murder; their shock manifesting itself in slow-motion dancing, which must be very difficult to carry out and maintain.

This re-telling of one of the Bard’s most well-known plays lets us use our imaginations, but the bedrock of the famous tale is still there – there can’t be anyone on this planet who hasn’t heard of Romeo & Juliet’s love story.

There wasn’t a dull moment in this energetic production, the original of which was written between 1591-1596.

This very different version reveals such modern-day horrors as knife crime, homophobia, bullying, sexual abuse and mental health issues, but in such subtle ways that our main attention is always on the two young lovers and their desperation to be together.

The drama never lets up for one minute, thanks mainly to Terry Davies’ amazing orchestrations of Prokofiev’s dynamic score.

The two leads – Fitzpatrick and Jonas – were perfect as angst-ridden young lovers; their every movement revealing a very believable chemistry. But everyone on stage on the night played their part in this timeless tragedy, fully deserving the prolonged standing ovation from a very happy audience.

And in the end, the lack of colour in the stage setting and costumes mattered not a jot; there was enough red blood spilled to satisfy any gore-lovers watching.

Running until Saturday, July 29th, 2023; 7.30pm nightly with 2.30pm matinees on Thursday, 27th and Saturday, 29th. Tickets cost from £19.50. Call (1482) 300306 or visit www.hulltheatres.co.uk

Reviewer: Jackie Foottit

Reviewed: 25th July 2023

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.