It is certainly William Shakespeare’s most famous play, and possibly the greatest tragedy of all time. Last night, The Birmingham Royal Ballet showed that 400 years on, Romeo and Juliet had lost none of its power and beauty, with a spellbinding performance of the story of family feuding and the devastation it brings to the youthful, star-crossed lovers.
When you watch the story unfold, it is obvious why this ballet still has the power to shock, to enchant and ultimately to take the audience and leave it totally heartbroken. Romeo and Juliet is the story that has it all. Swordfights, feuding and rivalry, romance, poison and murder, its all there in all its exhilarating glory. Add in dancing of the highest possible standard (sometimes combined with swords) and scenery that truly transports you to 16th century Verona, and you have all the ingredients of an incredible theatre experience. Totally perfect.
As the young, tragic lovers, rising star Brandon Lawrence and a stunning Celine Gittens are just wonderful. Both beautiful to look at, they also contrast so brilliantly. Gittens is all enchanting innocence in the first flush of womanhood and her first dance, with her nurse (Ruth Brill also wonderful) is lovely, very girlish and gauche. Lawrence is swaggering and masculine, but becomes the epitome of a romantic lover after his first encounter with Juliet. The ballet is helped enormously by the fact the dancers look young enough to be the star crossed lovers. The famous balcony scene is simply sublime, the pas de deux both tender and passionate, ending act one on a beautiful high, but of course, tragic events are just around the corner.
There are other scenes that are powerful in their intensity. The opening segment shows the strength of the hatred between the Montagues and Capulets, when all out battle breaks out, leaving the bodies piled up. The ballroom scene, set to Prokofiev’s score that is now famously used on Dragon’s Den is striking in its use of red as a leitmotif, and the group dances show that this is a ballet on a massive scale. But most effective of all are the death scenes of Mercutio and Tybalt. Tybalt, danced with a swaggering and brooding intensity and passion by the always amazing Rory Mackay, is a hot-head with hatred in his heart, determined to cut down the son of Montague. When Romeo refuses to fight him, Mercutio (Tzu-Chao Chou) steps in, and is stabbed in the back. His death scene is incredible, Mercutio doesn’t realise that he has been stabbed – he plays at dying before realises that his life blood really is ebbing away. He then swoons and staggers all over the stage before finally dying, it is a truly horrifying scene, made even more horrific when a vengeful Romeo inflicts the same treatment against Tybalt. The scene is potent and compelling, not easily erased from the mind.
In the 400th year since Shakespeare’s death, Romeo and Juliet has lost none of its eloquent beauty or sense of tragedy. With Prokofiev’s formidable score once again played to perfection by the Royal Ballet Sinfonia, and with sets that transport the audience to the 16th century, this is a ballet that will long live in the memory.
Romeo and Juliet
Birmingham Hippodrome Wed 27 – Sat 30 Jun
Click here for ticket information.