Ginger Hibiscus | Ginger Hibiscus | REVIEW: Romeo and Juliet at the Peacock Theatre
Ginger Hibiscus | REVIEW: Romeo and Juliet at the Peacock Theatre
Ginger Hibiscus | REVIEW: Romeo and Juliet at the Peacock Theatre
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10 Mar REVIEW: Rasta Thomas’ Romeo and Juliet at the Peacock Theatre

“Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean…”

These words of pure poetry are some of the most memorable opening lines of any play ever written, immediately recognisable as the prologue of what’s arguably Shakespeare’s greatest play, Romeo and Juliet. A play with love, murder, family feuds, suicide and religion, it really does have it all, the full suite of emotion a veritable goldmine for any choreographer looking to adapt it into a ballet.

As with all of her work, Adrienne Canterna’s Romeo and Juliet is a ballet with a twist; embracing elements of modern dance, contemporary music and twenty first century costume. Tasked with bringing ballet to an entirely new audience, the pop-py soundtrack certainly appeals to audiences that haven’t yet embraced classical scores like Prokofiev’s, but instead it flicks intermittently between orchestral and pop songs. Despite this being an admirable idea, the execution feels disjointed and jarring; just because it uses modern pop music, and pop songs tend to be just a couple of minutes long, that doesn’t mean the jolty stop-start every 90 seconds is necessary. Any DJ could do even a light mix of the songs, and even merging 3 or 4 at a time would improve the flow of the piece and stop it from feeling so bitty.

Another fundamental flaw with the show is it’s abject inability to get even half of the plot across. Even with ballet, it’s a prerequisite for any show that professes to tell a story, to actually tell that story. Whilst not an overly complex plot line, there are certain salient points that have to come across for it to make even a little bit of sense. The fact that the show doesn’t offer any explanation whatsoever for why Romeo and Juliet are forbidden to marry, is at best baffling. There’s barely any notion of an ancient grudge, and no suggestion as to why Friar Lawrence agrees to marry the star crossed lovers. In her programme notes, choreographer Adrienne Canterna talks about wanting to change the viewpoint of the story to the youngest generation, and depicting it through their eyes. Whilst interesting in concept, there’s a reason other adaptations haven’t attempted the same alteration; by removing the parents the entire context just crumbles away, leaving characters motiveless and therefore their actions meaningless.

The bastardisation of the story doesn’t stop at writing characters out; on a personal level, the scene that could only be interpreted as Romeo’s stag do is a bewildering addition, and I just don’t understand any version of Romeo and Juliet where the apparently secret wedding is celebrated at by an all-singing, all-dancing reception accompanied by Lady Gaga. Lack of comprehension aside, no part of me wants to clap along with a ballet. Much less, be subjected to the hideous awkwardness of having the dancers ask me to, whilst being blinded by the lights intended to illuminate the audience. Equally frustrating is the fact that despite clearly being heavily influenced by Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet, to the extent of even using Des’Ree’s Kissing You, unlike the film, the show has the emotional impact of a teacup- not helped by the comedic depiction of Mercutio’s death or the randomness of Paris showing up at Juliet’s deathbed.

It’s flawed. Really flawed, to the extent that I just can’t get past that. But it has to be said that the dancers are unanimously excellent – energetic, expressive and enormously skilled, on the night they also coped incredibly professionally with a technical malfunction that forced them to restart. The passion and love for the piece that choreographer-performer Adrienne Canterna has, shows in her every movement, and it results in a joyful dance show that, if it weren’t such an iconic play, would be very enjoyable.

Romeo and Juliet boasts some gorgeous choreography, stunningly executed by an infinitely talented group of dancers. But ballet or not, it’s impossible to conclude favourably on a production that just can’t express a story.

Venue: The Peacock Theatre
For tickets and information:
Image: Irina Chira

Star Rating

Ginger Hibiscus don’t like using stars as a headline; we think they’re too reductionist, and that decision-making based on stars misses the point of a review. Just as you wouldn’t judge a personality using a five-point scale, theatre is multi-dimensional. So have a read, and then look at the stars afterwards.
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