With music composed by Sergei Prokoviev playing throughout, this is a truly unique retelling of the classic tale.
The stage is plunged into darkness as the performance begins, a thin red veil drops from the curtain, falling slowly and pooling on the floor like blood.
A spotlight shines on a table, where the bodies of two young people lay.
Unfortunately, it looks like this version of Romeo and Juliet ends the same way it always does.
The staging for this show is incredibly simple, yet effective.
Matthew Bourne’s Romeo and Juliet
If you’re used to the glitz and glamour of many theatre performances, or you’re expecting nods to the 1996 Baz Luhrmann film, this one might come as a surprise.
There is a stark lack of colour in the entire show and the set barely changes.
Sir Matthew Bourne’s version of fair Verona
Sir Matthew Bourne’s version of fair Verona is Verona Institute; a cross between a boarding school and a high-security mental health facility.
The boys and girls are separated as they march through dimly lit arches, with ‘BOYS’ and ‘GIRLS’ above each gap in the glossy cream tile walls.
The only lights are from cold white, almost clinical, overhead lighting.
Nurses walk up and down the white iron staircases surrounding the wall, locking and unlocking oversized gates to keep the patients in.
Lez Brotherston’s costume design
Set and costume designer Lez Brotherston’s all-white costumes for every character means that the performers have to show their personalities through their facial expressions, which each performer did incredibly well.
Their faces show their individuality, while their costumes and choreography reflect the uniformity within the institute they were locked into.
Each performer seems to move together or in cannon, they even seem to breathe and flinch to the beat of the music.
Romeo and Juliet’s choreography
The choreography fits perfectly to Terry Davies’ fresh orchestrations of Prokofiev’s dynamic score.
There were two characters who were clearly meant to stand out, Romeo and Juliet, however, it was Enrique Ngbokota who plays Lennox that caught my eye.
Their cheeky, and slight provocativeness towards the nurses in the group scenes provided light relief during the tense routines.
They even managed to slip by the nurses after a group activity to join the girls’ side, smiling with glee until being dragged away by a guard.
It was these small snippets of personality and fun that kept the audience hooked during difficult scenes.
The production doesn’t shy away from addressing serious issues, which you might think would be hard to portray through dance and music alone.
Mental health and abuse
However, as we meet each character throughout the performance, there are clear themes of mental health issues and abuse.
Juliet is trapped and helpless against a guard who is meant to be there for protection but uses his power over the teenager to take advantage.
Romeo’s parents can’t handle his struggles with his mental health and so they bring him to the institute.
Matthew Bourne is very comfortable with showing the gritty realities of life and love through his performances and choreography and does it very well, without it being too much.
As the love story unfolds between the two leads — Paris Fitzpatrick as Romeo and Cordelia Braithwaite as Juliet, they perform an incredibly moving routine starting in the centre of the stage and using every inch of the set.
Their movements seem effortless as they climb the walls of the set to get closer to each other, they lift each other up with ease, and their desperation to be together can be felt from the back of the room.
They press their foreheads together as they gaze into each other’s eyes, they kiss and continue kissing as they move around the stage, filling the space, but never not touching in some way.
This scene perfectly captures the feeling of falling for your first true love.
Despite where they are, they feel free, they can’t get enough of each other, and they want to stay in each other’s arms forever.
Their light and fluid movements contrast to the sharp edginess of the rest of the performance where each move is almost robotic, forced and repetitive.
However, as the story goes, they can not be together, and it’s no surprise when the show begins to circle back to the beginning, ending with the two young people lying on a bed, now covered in blood.
There are cheers from the audience with people on their feet, and there are even a few tears as the cast take their bows.
After a very heavy and emotionally dramatic few hours, the audience laughs as Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance begins to play as the lights come on.
This is an incredibly gripping performance from beginning to end, that not only showcases the classic tale of Romeo and Juliet but explores the gritty realities of life and love.
With an incredible performance from each dancer and a recognisable soundtrack from Prokofiev, this is a show not to be missed.
Matthew Bourne’s Romeo + Juliet is on at The Lowry from the 11th – 15th of July 2023
You can get your tickets by clicking here.