Matthew Bourne’s Romeo and Juliet Review – A Modern Take on an Old Classic

Cordelia Braithwaite as Juliet and Paris Fitzpatrick as Romeo in Matthew Bourne’s “Romeo and Juliet” - Photo by Johan Persson

After over 25 years of resisting re-doing ROMEO AND JULIET, Matthew Bourne finally found the perfect reason to resurrect that old – and, according to Bourne, overdone – classic Shakespearean tale. What a great opportunity to find talented young dancers just starting out and offer them the roles of a lifetime! Finally, the search for young talent rendered striking results, and Bourne decided to work with his young associates and his regular team – each mentoring a young associate – to create a unique and modern story of the star-crossed lovers. Bourne’s original version would tap into child abuse, crime, mental health, rejecting parents – and result in the longest kiss in all of ballet. But Bourne’s clever retelling of ROMEO AND JULIET also needed some creative music, which led to a completely new arrangement (and re-arrangement) of Prokofiev’s stirring composition. Prokofiev’s lush sounds became small, tighter, more intimate in keeping with Bourne’s vision. The Centre Theatre Group’s Digital Stage presents ROMEO AND JULIET, a premium event with streaming access, from February 18-21, 2021.

Set in the near future at the Verona Institute, ROMEO AND JULIET creates a stark and unforgiving environment for abandoned, rejected, and/or simply troublesome kids. Move over, Nurse Ratched, and get ready for lessons on how to treat annoying adolescents. As guards patrol the perimeter – guards for whom affection might easily morph into molestation – cold and calculating staff offer lots of medication and barred cells. For this is a place where pills take the place of candies and hugs. Where one of the guards named Tybalt (Dan Wright) has his eye (and more) on the pretty, vulnerable Juliet (Cordelia Braithwaite). Enter Senator Montague and his wife with their bothersome, very difficult son Romeo (Paris Fitzpatrick). A teen who obviously needs some treatment at the Verona Institute. When the two lost teens meet, the purest of love (and maybe some lust) bring passion and life into their shadowy world. We all know how that turns out.

Director and choreographer Matthew Bourne has outdone himself in this contemporary ROMEO AND JULIET. Ably assisted by lively, malleable, uber-talented dancers, Bourne has fashioned a tale for today with talents of tomorrow. It is hard to believe that these young, nubile dancers have bones in their fluid bodies as they weave, wind, and twist through their steps with meandering lurches, staggers, and impossible moves. Kudos to the pair of lovers, who are distilled passion as they physically configure their love. And don’t forget that very long kiss. Lez Brotherston’s set design is perfect for the story, with Paule Constable’s lighting and Paul Groothuis’s sound cementing the scene. Terry Davies has fashioned new orchestrations of the Prokofiev score which add to and embellish the overall mood. And don’t forget the skills of the New Adventures Orchestra.

ROMEO AND JULIET is a fantastic journey in dance which captures Shakespeare’s premise while adding some modern considerations. Although some might find it disconcerting that Shakespeare’s main theme of two warring factions/families eventually united in grief doesn’t work in Bourne’s version, ROMEO AND JULIET is still more than worth watching. Try not to miss this production.

ROMEO AND JULIET premiered at 5 p.m. (PST) on Thursday, February 18, 2021. It will also be streamed at 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Friday, February 19; at 2 p.m., 5 p.m., and 8 p.m. on Saturday, February 20, and at 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. on Sunday, February 21, 2021. Tickets are $10. For information and reservations, go online.

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