‘Romeo and Juliet’ at Sadler’s Wells

Cast aside your visions of Shakespeare’s Verona, with all its creeping ivy and marble, and its breeches and bodice wearing townsfolk, in Scottish Ballet’s revival of Krzysztor Pastor’s Romeo & Juliet, this world is a lifetime away as we are transported into 20th century Italy. Having premiered in 2008, the return of this contemporary retelling of Shakespeare’s greatest love story enjoys a welcome return to the stage, albeit sadly only for a three-day London run.

Set to Prokofiev’s majestic score, the story of our two star-cross’d lovers plays with the idea of conflict and rage being passed through the generations. Beginning in the 1930s, the stylish ensemble gather on stage before powerful black and white projections of archive footage from Mussolini’s Italy. Aptly matching the visuals and style of the dancers with each of the three acts, the result is a gripping performance that succinctly breaks down the themes of its source play – a nation at war, the heady highs of optimism and brutal reality. Granted, this interpretation of Romeo & Juliet is coming from my hardened self but as we move through the decades, from 1930s war-torn Italy to the beautiful airiness and style of the sepia-toned 1950s to turn of the century Italy in the final act of the 1990s it’s possible to read such moments into this insightful revisioning of what can be a rather ‘overdone’ tale.

Splashing the stage with colour, the carefree Montague’s delight in each other’s company, led like a merry band of men by the loveable fool Mercutio (Daniel Davidson) while our pensive Romeo (Christopher Harrison) stands by – his lady waiting in the wings. Cutting across the stage, the Capulet’s are dressed in military black, stern and rigid, with the exception of two spritely young girls whose fluid movements allow them to be welcomed into the Montague camp. These are young Juliet’s friends and when not flirting with the enemy, encourage Juliet (Claire Robertson) to her Romeo, her soon-to-be love of her life, and catalyst for her untimely death.

With such all-encompassing passion to live up to, the chemistry between the two protagonists should be heart-wrenching but unfortunately this fell a little short. While their solos and indeed pas de deux with others, particularly Juliet with her mother, the regal Kara McLaughlin, were indeed beautiful, as lovers Romeo and Juliet’s chemistry was anything but to die for.

Davidson’s Mercutio was a wonderful characterisation, filling the stage with presence and the audience with laughter, even in his interactions with Owen Thorne domineering and imposing Tybalt, a stark contrast to Davidson’s light-footed, lithe-like figure. Their deadly duelling demonstrated the power of both dancers, with a physicality that often made brief departures from classic ballet to contemporary, a welcome accompaniment to the contemporary staging.

With a minimalist, modern set by Tatyana van Walsum, banishing your traditional balcony from all sight, combined with the provocative background visuals and the breathtaking score, the production is a beauty to watch. While our eponymous lovers may have been a little mismatched, the company delivers a captivating performance, capturing the delicate humour of Shakespeare’s play alongside the passion.

Scottish Ballet’s Romeo & Juliet took place from 14-17 May at:

Sadler’s Wells
Rosebery Ave

Image: Christina Riley

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