Matthew Bourne's Romeo and Juliet. Passion In Three Acts
Andy Monaghan (Romeo) and Seren Williams (Juliet)
The distinguishing characteristic of any Shakespearean play is surely the richness of the text. In Romeo and Juliet - an early example of Shakespeare's work - words are used as metaphors, metrical rhythms and abstractions, with the playwright deftly switching between comedy and tragedy to twist the knife (sometimes literally) and to built the tension.
So why not turn this great richness into a ballet? Let's throw away all these textual 'gifts from heaven', cut back to the story alone, then try and build back the drama with movement alone. Could the pathos and hanky-requirements of the original be restored, augmented, improved?
It's been done before of course. Famously, Sergei Prokofiev composed the music in 1935 for the Kirov Ballet and his incredible ballet score has inspired many great choreographers to try their hand at Shakespeare's story.
Sir Matthew Bourne certainly falls into the 'great choreographer' category and in his latest New Adventures production he applies his trademark techniques of disruption and dislocation by moving the action from "fair Verona" to an "Institute in the not too distant future". But, like a warring general attacking a complacent enemy, Matthew Bourne keeps up the disruption by replacing Capulets and Montagues - basically two groups of young men with an overdose of testosterone and too much spare time - with Boys and Girls placed in some sort of 'correctional institute', thereby introducing new layers of gender politics and sexual predation into the mix.
Our two star crossed lovers, Andy Monaghan (Romeo) and Seren Williams (Juliet) are beautiful. Not just photogenically attractive, which they are, but emotionally and dynamically appealing. Their passion, their love, their energy is told in twisting, sinuous, writhing movements. They intertwine, they are dragged apart, and always pine for each other across the wide open spaces and considerable verticality of Lez Brotherston's excellent set. Clothed in white on a predominately white stage the inevitable blood flowing from our two young protagonists is all the more shocking when it comes.
By contrast, Danny Reubens as Tybalt was dressed in stereotypical black. In this new setting he became an officer in the correctional facility, a sexual predator and an all round bad character. However I'm sure his Mum loves him - as did I - he played the part disturbingly well.
In keeping with Matthew Bourne's inclusive style, the production features 6 young dancers from the North - aged from 17 to 20, with three of them from Yorkshire. In a series of intensive training sessions these young dancers were developed as artists and prepared for the rigours of a professional rehearsal. It is to their great credit that they blended so well with such a high quality production.
With barely a hint of Sharks and Jets, the cast opened up Prokofiev's amazing music and gave it life. This is no simple recreation of Shakespeare's text, but a completely new imagining, taking the original text, opening it up for a new generation and adding layers of drama of its own.