This isn’t a sponsored post. BrumHour was invited to the press night by Birmingham Hippodrome.
For Brum Radio’s Interval Theatre, Eleanor Lawson spoke to New Adventure’s dancer Savannah Ffrench about this production of Romeo and Juliet. Listen back here:
By Eleanor Lawson
Please note Prokofiev‘s music contains the theme to The Apprentice
Matthew Bourne’s Romeo and Juliet
at Birmingham Hippodrome
Director and Choreographer Matthew Bourne, Composed by Sergei Prokofiev
If you assume you know everything about Romeo and Juliet, Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures is determined to prove you wrong. Instead of the idyllic stone buildings and winding rivers of Northern Italy, we have the Verona Institute: a futuristic psychiatric hospital where young patients are segregated by gender and at the mercy of the institute’s guards. Clinical and sterile, the aim of deadening its patients of emotions are reflected in the stark white of the brick walls and the costumes. The most vivid use of colour throughout the entire production is the blood of the two young lovers.
This means the central tension of Shakespeare’s play, the feuding families, is cast aside and replaced with a more interesting discussion of the abuse of the vulnerable by the state and its enforcers. Instead of Shakespeare’s idyllic world which has been marred by personal vendettas, Bourne gives us a damned world where humans are isolated and the only form of liberation is stolen love affairs. His is a world far more disturbing, a dystopia far less likely to be resolved by the time the cast return for their bows. Although the warring households are dispensed of, we still see the Montagues: a slick senator and his polished wife, dropping their son off onto the steps of the institute with the waving of a cheque. Their son is nothing more than an inconvenience, any sign of breaking convention through his mental health and subsequent behaviour needs to be buried to avoid tarnishing their political careers. The show becomes a war between two different generations, where the young are policed by the old. It’s no surprise to see a generation that feels betrayed by their elders.
With a show that rests so firmly on its two lovers, there’s a lot of pressure on the central two performances to break the audience’s hearts. Andy Monaghan as Romeo and Seren Williams as Juliet are stunning, aided by their youth which makes the denouement even more tragic. Monaghan’s Romeo carries his fragility in every movement, soft and hesitant that within moments of dancing on stage he’s helplessly endearing. In a world of brutally aggressive security guards and performative masculinity from bantering inmates, Romeo is gentle and immediately invokes our sympathy. Williams is a tour-de-force as Juliet, who is sexually assaulted by the brutish security-guard, Tybalt, and finds some sense of catharsis through falling in love with Romeo.
Matthew Bourne is one of the most renowned names in ballet, and it’s clear to see why from the opening moments of the show: a choreographed group scene with the inmates dancing erratically to Sergei Prokofiev’s Dance of the Knights (the theme from The Apprentice, if you don’t know your classical music) is electrifying. Your hairs are literally standing on end. The bombastic Dance of the Knight’s contrasts heavily with the softer music of the more romantic scenes, thus it comes to represent moments of primal emotion.
Raw pain, anger, and fear are accompanied by the famous piece of music with explosive movements from the impeccable cast of young dancers. I went into the show wondering how the choreography could convey every emotional facet of Shakespeare’s language, but one particular piece of movement stunned me. When Romeo and Juliet kiss for the first time, they dance across the stage, physically unable to contain their passion. They roll and writhe and climb upstairs, still connected by the mouth, a moment that leaves you as breathless as they are.
This Romeo and Juliet is worlds away from the balcony in Verona that most people will envision, and that’s why it’s a stunning show. It peers into the darkest corners of society and blows them up into a hideous dystopia to examine some of the cruellest aspects of our world. Institutional abuse, solitary confinement of minors, sexual assault, homophobia. It doesn’t shy away from the hideousness of the world, but that makes the love at its heart even more hopeful.
Matthew Bourne’s Romeo and Juliet is at Birmingham Hippodrome until Saturday 14th September. See details of the tour dates which continue until 12th October here: new-adventures.net/romeo-juliet
This isn’t a sponsored post.
Eleanor Lawson produces Interval Theatre Tuesdays at 3pm on Brum Radio.