I have a confession to make. Before today I had never watched a ballet in full. Sure, I had seen clips, and as a dancer myself (although clearly not a classical one) I’ve seen many contemporary productions, but never a ballet. Such is the benefit of companies such as The Royal Opera House streaming past productions online – you can give yourself new experiences from the comfort of your own home.
Despite me knowing nothing about ballet, I am however much more experienced in the works of the Bard and have played Juliet myself on several occasions. For this reason, I found the story very easy to follow, and could clearly identify who each of the characters were. As in many of Shakespeare’s plays, the female characters are few and far between, but in this production the women were given more of a starring role, and extra parts had been created to showcase their talent. It goes without saying that every dancer on stage was fantastic – the extension, the jumps, the perfect unison across the massive company – it was amazing to watch! Although it is somewhat odd to watch these incredible athletes at the top of their game while sitting on the sofa scoffing a magnum!
I particularly enjoyed Valentino Zucchetti and Benjamin Ella as Mercutio and Benvolio – both playful and cheeky lads, bringing in some lighter comedy moments. Mercutio’s acting during his fight with Tybalt was exceptional. Lord Capulet was a commanding presence, although my uncultured self did let out a chuckle when his entrances were accompanied by “The Apprentice theme tune”. I was a little disappointed they didn’t make more of the nurse’s character – she is usually one of my favourites, but I missed the comedy and sass that comes with her quick lines.
On to the title pair, who were a joy to behold. Yasmine Naghdi’s Juliet was youthful and fun, and enchanting to watch. Matthew Ball brought confidence and charm to his Romeo, and the two together displayed lovely chemistry. In fact, the scenes with just the couple on stage were by far my favourite, and the balcony pas de deux was gorgeous. Ball lifts Naghdi through the air with such power and grace, and I felt every emotion radiating from their faces and bodies.
Sure, there were several aspects I didn’t quite understand. Why were the Montague men wearing only skin coloured dance tights and nothing else on their bottom half, were they meant to appear half naked?! It also took me a while to get on board with the sword fighting scenes as they tried to walk the line between choreographed ballet and real aggression – I guess I prefer more realism. And traditional though it may be, I found the curtain call somewhat over-indulgent. It’s a shame that for such a large company, only a very small number of performers get to take their final bow.
Would I watch a ballet again? Absolutely! Many others like me, who perhaps were put off by time, money, or feeling out of place, can now experience these productions risk-free in their own home. If lockdown has taught us anything, it’s that the arts need to be saved, and made more accessible to everyone. Think of this as a trial period – watch productions online, donate what we can, and support our world-class theatres as soon as it is safe to do so.
Romeo and Juliet is available until July 24th on the Royal Opera House’s YouTube channel as part of the #OurHouseToYourHouse series. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M8igolhGEGQ
Reviewer: Poppy Stewart
Reviewed: 10th July 2020
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★