Last night I went see the Ballet, Romeo + Juliet at The Birmingham Hippodrome. However, it was not your usual story or ballet though because it was a Matthew Bourne production.
It was not the first Matthew Bourne ballet I have seen, I wrote a post on Cinderella last year. It was the familiar(ish) story but set in the 1940s during the war. The Prince was actually a soldier and the ball was an underground venue that was heavily bombed. You’ll have to read my review if you want to know more.
Romeo And Juliet
This reveiw comes with lots of spoilers so be warned. However, it doesn’t matter how much I tell you, it will be nothing like actually seeing the performance!
The score was Prokofiev Romeo and Juliet, one of the most well-known ballet scores. When it was written Prokofiev had a lot of trouble with it as the music was considered un-danceable due to it’s symphonic nature.
Mathew Bourne chose to create his version on a more intimate scale than usually found in traditional ballet. The score was re-created for a smaller chamber ochestra of 15 players. This new version was not a reduction of Prokofiev but a re-imagination of the orchestration.
One of the things my friend and I noticed was that it was not the usual musical perfomance of Romeo and Juliet but it really did work with the dancing.
Which brings me to the dancing. This was a New Adventures Production and includes a young cast from local dancers. It’s definitely more of a modern style of ballet, if you are expecting the twirls and lifts like in the Nutcracker you will be surprised. If you think more along the lines of the dancer in the video for Sia’s ‘Chandelier‘ You’ll be closer to the mark.
The ballet begins in the Verona Institute (for the mentally unstable) in the not to distant future. We see the inmates both behaving and mishbehaving and the guards keeping them in order.
Juliet is one of the patients in the institute and she is picked out by one of the guards, Tybalt, and taken away and raped. (this happens behind the scenes but it’s quite obvious what has happened.)
Then we are introduced to Romeo who is brought into the institute by his parents, the Senator and Mrs Montague.
My friend and I were confused as to who where the Montagues and the Capulets but we concluded that the Montagues were represented by Romeo, his Parents and the guards, whereas the Capulets where the patients in the institute. (a bit different, eh!)
The ball is actually a disco set up by Rev. Laurence complete with disco ball. This is the first time we see the patients of the instute in other than plain white clothing. They party all night but the main focus is the meeting of Romeo with Juliet.
After the party there is a really romantice dance seen with just Romeo and Juliet. I found this pretty emotional, beautiful and amazing. My heart melted and I’m not really a romantic type.
Then Tybalt the guard gets angry because he wants Juliet to himself. He sets about killing Romeo with a gun but during a scuffle, partly off stage, it’s Mercutio that gets shot and killed. Then Romeo retaliates along with the other inmates and strangles Tybalt. End of Act One and a stunned audience.
The instute wants to get rid of Romeo so his VIP parents are called in. But they don’t want to take responsibility so write a cheque for them to keep him in. Romeo doesn’t want to leave his precious Juliet so he’s happy to stay.
Meanwhile we see Juliet distressed and feeling suicidal because she believes she has lost her beloved Romeo. She is hiding a knife under her pillow but is thwarted from her suicide attempt by the arrival of a guard to check on her.
When Juliet realises that Romeo is still in the instute The Rev. Laurence arranges for the young lovers to spend the night together, and we believe we are in for another romantic scene.
It starts off romantic but as it gets more heated Juliet has flashbacks to her rape and Romeo is replaced by Tybalt. She grabs her knife and stabs him. It’s only when Romeo is dying that she realises what she has done so she stabs herself. The show ends with the two dying lovers and lots and lots of stage blood.
Matthew Bourne’s ballet is not for everyone, but it’s a truly stunning experience to go and see one. He’s not afraid of expressing a lot of taboo subjects and throwing them straight at you, homosexuality, sex, violence, mental health, rape etc. And it’s all displayed by the form of dance in a captivating perfomance. He takes a traditional story with traditonal music and puts a completely different spin on it all.
I can’t wait to see The Red Shoes next year.
The program comes with a disclaimer.
If youre affected by any of the themes in Matthew Bournes Romeo and Juliet, you may find help and support form the following organistations: Mind at mind.org.uk or call 0300 123 3393. Young Minds at youngminds.org.uk or call 0808 802 5544. Childline at childline.org.uk or call 0800111. For further information and signposting visit Heads Together at headstogether.org.uk.
This is a review because I wanted to record my experience. My friend paid for the tickets.
I love this review, and I loved the performance. I love ballet and I love Mathew Bourne and your reviews always do the performances justice in a way that I could never hope to achieve.
I’m so glad we were able to attend. Like you, I felt very moved by the whole performace but that dance with Romeo and Juliet that you refer to was a very emotional experience and I don’t think I have experienced anything like it before in a ballet. True art at its very best.
I do have to disagree on one thing though…I’m sure Mercutio was shot not stabbed?!?! Didn’t we hear a gun shot off stage?
Thank you for sharing a very memorable night xx
oh you are so right, it was all that stabbing that got me confused, yes he was shot, I’ll change it now, thanks for the reminder. xx
This looks interesting, a friend of mine went to see it and had good things to say about it. I’ve never really considered going to see a ballet production, but I am very interested in going to the opera! I discovered classical music during my studies and become quite hooked…I may have a look at a ballet performance online and see if it intrigues me.
I love opera, but I much prefer Mozart to anyone else. I get a little fed up of the repetition that some composers like. A good aria is a good aria, it doesn’t have to be repeated over and over. I do like a bit of Wagner, but again, I can’t listen to all of his operas in one go. My all time favourite is The Magic Flute, and I get shivers everytime I hear the aria from the Queen of the Night. I never went to a ballet until a couple of years ago, I wasn’t sure that I’d like it. But forget the words, the dancing and the music takes you away to whole new place.