In many ways Romeo and Juliet, bursting with the passion and energy of youth, feels like the perfect ballet for an innovative company like Sir Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures to stage. And if you think there are no new ideas to be mined from Shakespeare’s timeless story of star-crossed lovers – think again.
The production opens with the drop of a blood-red curtain to reveal two, young, lifeless bodies on a mortuary slab. Everyone knows this is where the tragedy is taking us, but after a brief reminder, we’re swept back in time to ride the emotions that drove this sorry end.
Here Verona has become The Verona Institute, which sounds much more inviting than it is. Lez Brotherston’s usually elaborate set and costume designs are stripped back to an austere starkness. The white, tiled setting is a cross between a thankfully long-gone asylum and a human lab experiment. Here young people, dressed in head-to-toe white to match the soulless decor, live as in-mates where they are separated by gender, confined by metal fencing, and policed by abusive guards.
Terry Davies has created a new, pared down arrangement of Prokofiev’s score, introducing Dance of the Knights (made popular as the theme tune to TV show The Apprentice) almost immediately, with the rousing march inspiring robotic choreography reflecting how the young people are being kept under control. Their only freedom seems to be in expressing their demons during what look like group therapy sessions.
Aside from the comfort of each other, Friar Laurence (here Rev Bernadette Laurence) and her disco, glitter ball, provides the only hope for these lost souls. And it is under this spinning globe of sparkling light that Juliet first catches sight and then locks lips with new boy, Romeo. And what a kiss it is! Bourne’s choreography capturing the intensity of young love with the two young dancers spinning and rolling in a mammoth, energetic embrace.
Paris Fitzpatrick and Cordelia Braithwaite are at once both vulnerable and strong as Romeo and Juliet. Their dance moves are executed with precision and acted with passion that grabs you by the gut and sweeps you along in their romance.
There is a nod to West Side Story and Grease in elements of the choreography. But while referencing the success of what’s gone before, Bourne’s unique stamp is still evidently clear.
Nine of the dancers are making their professional debuts with New Adventures through this production and young creatives have worked alongside the regular team on all aspects of the show. The result is a rawness that feels very much a Romeo and Juliet for today, touching on many issues at the heart of young people’s concerns – mental health, sexual and physical abuse, homophobia, generational divisions, and knife crime in a frank and bold way. If teenage love could be captured in a dance, this is it.