Sunday, 16 June 2019

Wherefore Art Thou Romeo? Or Juliet for that Matter?

Richard Burbage, an Early Romeo
Author Unknown
Source Wikipedia Romeo and Juliet

New Adventures Romeo and Juliet The Lowry, 15 June 2019, 19:30

As I hate to dis a show in which a lot of resources have been invested and in which brilliant young artists have danced their hearts out, let's start with the positives. There was some dazzling dancing, particularly by Paris Fitzpatrick and Cordelia Braithwaite in the title roles and Daisy May Kemp as the Rev Bernadette Lawrence, the Verona Institute's chaplain. There was some very clever choreography for the inmates. I particularly liked the exercise in which the dancers did everything they could with a chair except sit on it. There were some brilliant designs by Lez Brotherston as always. It was a very slick and polished production that almost everyone in the audience rewarded with a standing ovation.

I was not one of them.  I remained firmly in my seat.  The show was good in many ways but not that good. Certainly not in comparison to some of the recent performances in that auditorium by Phoenix Dance Theatre, Birmingham Royal Ballet and Northern Ballet, Or, indeed, other works by Sir Matthew Bourne such as Red Shoes, Highland Fling and The Car Men. "What was wrong with it, exactly?" asked my friend who had spent the evening at the Bridgewater Hall listening to the BBC Philharmonic playing a new work by Mark Simpson as well as Mozart and Mahler.  I replied that it was shorn of just about everything that makes Shakespeare's play and almost every other version of the ballet so gripping.

It was set not in Verona, Italy, but in some gruesome psychiatric hospital called the Verona Institue,  There were no Montagues and Capulets or even Reds and Fascists as in Krzysztof Pastor's version, Just clipboard-wielding medics and brutal armed guards one of whom was called Tybalt,  Romeo was not a scion of one of the leading families but a disturbed young man who was ambushed by the inmates, debagged and clad in hospital whites as his loveless parents took their leave of him.  Juliet was also disturbed and apparently abused by Tybalt.  The couple met at an inmates' ball where most of the patients danced as woodenly as the dolls in Coppelia.  Romeo and Juliet's duets were different.  Their dances, particularly the last passionate one just before Juliet knifed herself, were the bits of the performance that I enjoyed the most.  There were no sword fights.  Just a shot from a drunken Tybalt and his strangling by the inmates for which Romeo allowed himself to take the rap. There was no grief-stricken Lady Capulet. No attempted forced marriage. No drug inducing a catatonic state. No final encounter with Paris. No suicide by knife or poison in the Capulet family tomb.

Now I am all for restaging a ballet in modern dress if it can be done well as Darius James and Amy Doughty did with Ballet Cymru's Romeo a Juliet, Ted Brandsen with Coppelia and indeed Sir Matthew with his re-imaginings of La Sylphide and Cinderella but change for change's sake as in Nixon's Swan Lake or Akram Khan's Giselle is pointless.  There is nothing wrong with creating a new work to a well-known score as Jean-Guy Saintus did with Stravinsky's Rite of Spring or, indeed, as Milena Siderova did with the Dance of the Knights in her pillow dance for Bart Engelen. This was not so much a restaging of a gripping, complex work as a degutting.

Now I am a blogger, not a critic.  I keep this blog to remind me of shows that gave me joy.  If I can't say anything nice I say nothing at all.  If I really hated this work I would have kept it to myself.  There were things to admire which is why I started with the positives. It is just that I think Sir Matthew has done better and I have certainly seen better versions of Romeo and Juliet, not least Ballet Cymru's which is in Bracknell today. 

Don't let me put you off New Adventures's version.  Everyone else in The Lowry seemed to think it was outstanding. It is coming to Cardiff this week, London in August, Norwich, Birmingham, Canterbury and Southampton in September and Nottingham and Newcastle in October.  See it for yourselves and make your own minds up about it.  As I say, I am a  dance fan not a critic and my only qualification to cast an opinion is that I have seen an awful lot of dance in my 60 years or so of fairly regular theatre-going.

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