Matthew Bourne’s Romeo and Juliet

ROMEO AND JULIET

Credit: Johan Persson

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

It’s a little past 9PM and I’m sat watching a modern-day masterpiece, to many the greatest love story ever told… that’s right Love Island is on ITV 2! I jest of course; I am referring to Matthew Bourne’s Romeo and Juliet.

There have been many productions of William Shakespeare’s most famous play, but few will match the innovative, bold and daring narrative choices Bourne has made in creating his latest ballet.

This is very much a Romeo and Juliet for 2019 with the action taking place in the Verona institute: an asylum packed full of young men and women, made to live separately by a team of guards who have no qualms abusing their power or those in their care.

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Head guard Tybalt, (Dan Wright) has his sights fixed on young inmate Juliet (Cordelia Braithwaite) however she only has eyes for the Verona Institute’s latest arrival Romeo (Paris Fitzpatrick), a young man sent away by his politically ambitious parents. Romeo and Juliet, as we all know, fall in love but at a fatal cost to them both. This is of course a story most of us are as familiar with as we are our own faces, however this production subverts the narrative keeping it fresh, exciting and engaging.

Braithwaite and Fitzpatrick are outstanding as the titular leads: a mixture of grace, vulnerability and passion, fully exemplified by the pair’s penultimate dance. However all cast, including the six local dancers (local dancers will join the tour at local venues) are outstanding and fully deserve the plaudits that will undoubtedly come their way. What strikes you about any Matthew Bourne production is that every person on that stage is a fully fleshed out character and each character shines through. The masked ball sequence has been transformed into a mash up between a school disco and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and beautifully typifies the production’s narrative.

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Bourne’s choreography marries perfectly with Sergei Prokofiev’s emotive and powerful score expertly conducted by Dan Jackson. In addition, the use of all white costumes and the white tiled interior gives the production a virginal and surgical quality, which is further intensified when colour is introduced into the narrative.

Bourne has done it again, taking a traditional story and giving it a contemporary twist with references to current politics and a reliance on institutionalising people rather than treating them. However more than any of that, this is a production celebrating youth: a ballet starring young people, for young people, an absolute must-see!

Matthew Bourne’s Romeo and Juliet is on at the Lowry till 15th June. Tickets available here.

 

Interview | Matthew Bourne talks Romeo & Juliet

ROMEO AND JULIET

Shakespeare’s much-loved tale of star cross’d lovers has inspired the creative community for generations. The tragic and passionate story set against the conflict of two divided families has spawned countless plays, musicals, operas and songs. Now it’s the turn of world-renowned, award-winning choreography Matthew Bourne to interpret this timeless classic in an all new contemporary reimagining of the familiar tale.

We spoke to Matthew Bourne who revealed that Romeo and Juliet was actually inspired by who he would work with rather than just the story. He explained: “I avoided doing it for years as I think it was something everyone expected me to do and it had been done in so many different ways in so many different mediums. I thought it would be hard to find a new way into it which is something I always search for.”

“The thing that really made me want to do it was the opportunity to work with young people. It is a story about them and young love. I got even more excited when it was suggested we cast it with young people and work with young creative associates in all the different departments of the show alongside my usual world-class team. It is all about nurturing them and telling the story.”

ROMEO AND JULIET

Romeo and Juliet’s plot also lends itself to choreography because of its themes. Matthew said: “Dance is very good at extreme emotions, and Romeo and Juliet as a story is certainly full of those. It has passion, love against the odds, and several extremes of murder and violence. It is all those big emotions. Shakespeare captured it very well. Young people are very hot headed and react very quickly to things.”

“One thing I have tried to bring out is that when young people first fall in love and feel that passion, they really go overboard in many ways. I often think about how classical ballet handles this and how the young girl gets very excited by a kiss on the cheek. Young people today, if they are into each other, are kissing until their mouths are sore. I have tried to capture that intensity.”

“It is also set a little way into the future, but it is not futuristic. It is a time when society is frowning on young people having an excess of feeling and emotion which sends them off on the wrong tracks as far as society is concerned. I got the idea from Arthur Laurents, the co-creator of West Side Story, who was asked why the young people in it are violent and act the way they do? He said they have too much feeling and they need to find a way to release it. I thought that was an interesting way into the story and very true. It made me go in the direction I went in.”

ROMEO AND JULIET

One of this country’s best-known directors and choreographers, Matthew has been creating dance for over 30 years for musicals, theatres and film as well as his own New Adventures company which boasts a list of hugely successful productions including the iconic Swan Lake, Edward Scissorhands, Red Shoes and Play Without Words.

For Romeo and Juliet, Matthew has once again gathered his trusted creative team around him including associate artistic director Etta Murfitt, set and costume designer Lez Brotherston and lighting designer Paule Constable to add their skill, knowledge and talent to the production to both cushion and push him as he brings his interpretation of the Bard’s work to life. Matthew said: “They know me well enough to question me on what we are doing, whether it works, and they will suggest things too. Sometimes a new creative team are a bit nervous about coming forward with their suggestions when they are working with someone like me who has been in the business for a long time. It is nice to work with a team who don’t have a problem with that.”

Also, part of the team is the composer Terry Davies, another long-term collaborator of Matthew’s who had the job of adapting Prokofiev’s music for this production. He said: “While it is wonderful and big and lush for big opera-house productions and suits that style of production, I wanted something a bit more earthy and a bit more quirky. We nervously went to the Prokofiev Estate and asked them if we could do a new arrangement. It would be very faithful to it and it is only 15 musicians who multi-task and play lots of different instruments. It is quite rare for us to take an orchestra out on tour with us. It is sounding wonderful and I hope the Prokofiev Estate are happy. It is a very recognisable score and that is really the script that we work with.”

ROMEO AND JULIET

But that ability to feature and engage with young people is as key to this production as the Montagues and the Capulets. At each venue, six fast-emerging dancers (three male and three female) have been chosen to perform on stage alongside the professional company. After a series of auditions around the country, this highly-talented half-dozen gets the opportunity to be part of a world premiere tour surrounded by the professional company. “They are an integral part of the show. They are not token appearances. They’re part of the main company,” he said.

In addition, a team of young associates have been appointed to work within each creative arm of the project including lighting, sound, orchestration and costume. It is happening with the choreography too, with Matthew being joined by Arielle Smith. “She is wonderful. Not only is she a great up and coming talent but I get on with her very well. We have a laugh. With such an enormous age difference between us of around 30 years, she is like a mate and she is incredibly mature for her years in terms of the way she has handled the whole process and there is a lot of her and her work in it. She is not standing by my side watching me work. She is taking rehearsals, creating movement for the show and she has been great. I hear from the other creatives that they are enjoying working with their associates as well. We have all been getting together and thriving with this opportunity,” he said.

It is a similar model to the Lord of the Flies tour where Matthew and his team gave the opportunity for young men who were interested in dance to be part of the professional production alongside his New Adventures company of professional performers which has generated its own success stories. Three of the young Lord of the Flies were cast for Romeo and Juliet, while others are part of his Swan Lake 2019 company. “They have gone through several programmes that we have to nurture young British-trained dancers. We are very proud of those young guys and we hope that this time we will bring some women into the fray that we have nurtured so there will be even more people who started in Lord of the Flies or Romeo and Juliet that will hopefully come back into the company,” said Matthew.

And with four major productions this year plus a Special Award at the Olivier’s for services to dance, 2019 is proving to be quite a year for Matthew. He recalled: “It has been amazing. Swan Lake coming back is always a thrill because it does introduce so many more people to dance and to our company. It always has an incredible effect on audiences around the country and our casts are so devoted to it.”

“In the middle of all that, getting the Olivier Special Award right in the middle of creating a new show was rather good because the award can feel a bit like it is the end of your career and people are saying ‘Thank you, Please Stop.’ It felt great to be in the middle of a new creation like Romeo and Juliet. It was about the past and about the future at the same time.”

And he is feeling very positive about his Shakespeare-inspired production. He admitted: “What started out as being quite a scary project involving so much untested talent and young people that I didn’t know very well has ended up being rather an exciting new show.”

For Matthew and all the team connected with it, the passion and excitement are every bit as strong as the passion that binds the two young characters at the heart of these exciting and explosive performances.

Matthew Bourne’s Romeo and Juliet will be at The Lowry from Tuesday 11 – Saturday 15 June tickets available here.

West Side Story

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Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Expectation has been at an almighty high since West Side Story was announced as part of the Royal Exchanges Spring/Summer 2019 season. So successful of late has the theatre been at reimagining classic musicals the run had almost sold-out before the first preview even took place.

This epic tale based on Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet sees star-crossed lovers Tony and Maria fighting to be together in 1950’s Manhattan where warring gangs make the rules and stepping into enemy territory is strictly taboo. As a story there is everything from love and conflict to hope and heartbreak as the Sharks and Jets fierce rivalry shapes their very existence.

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Since it first premiered in 1955 Jerome Robbins choreography is something that’s always come as part and parcel of any West Side Story production. So iconic in its style it’s hard to imagine the Sharks and the Jets moving in any other way. Step forward Aletta Collins who not only takes on the challenge of reimagining the instantly recognisable choreography but does so in the most beautifully inspired way.

There are still enough elements of the original choreography to keep the traditionalists amongst us happy but these elements are now combined with a pulsating fusion of Latin, street, lindy hop, jazz and even a touch of northern soul to create the most vibrant melting pot of movement.

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Director Sarah Frankom ensures this new choreography is allowed to take centre stage as moments of breath-taking beauty unfold; highlighted perfectly during the switch from punchy ensemble piece to the stillness of Tony and Maria’s first meeting which bursts with joyful innocence. A genuine moment of calm & purity during the heady tension of the dancehall scene.

The cast are outstanding and as an ensemble work together to perfection, fuelled by hatred, fear, anger, love and loss, they fizz with pent up emotion. The era is unspecific making it feel just as relevant today as it did 62 years ago as we seemingly are once again in the midst of a swathe of violent knife crime.

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Andy Coxon finds the true heart of Tony, delivering a powerful and emotive performance; his rendition of Maria a real highlight while fellow lead Gabriela García is completely captivating as Maria. Her operatic vocals are note perfect and pure. Their duets are sublime while the innocence of their love is blissfully uplifting.

Jocasta Almgill is superb and sassy as streetwise Anita, Fernando Mariano makes for a passionate and proud Bernardo while Michael Duke as Riff is convincing and committed.

The cast make full use of Anna Fleischle’s innovative design which is skilfully lit by Lee Curran. They weave, jump and balance on Fleischle’s vertical geometric sets, one minute gone, the next high up emerging from the shadows. The balcony scenes in particular during Tonight really showing off the impressive staging of this piece as each character vies for the audience’s attention, from all sides of the theatre’s intimate space.

West Side Story ©The Other Richard

The eleven piece orchestra powerfully deliver Leonard Bernstein’s classic score with new arrangements by Jason Carr giving it a modern and fresh feel. Led by Tom Chester the score is packed with emotion and fundamental to the impact of this piece.

The Royal Exchange have created something truly special here, the standing ovation a clear indicator that this production marks another success for the innovative Manchester theatre makers. Bold, inspired theatre at its best.

West Side Story is on at the Royal Exchange until Saturday 25th May tickets can be found here.

Hamlet

Hamlet Production Photos Photo Credit : The Other Richard

Opening Night Verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Often described as Shakespeare’s greatest tragedy, Director David Thacker’s Hamlet is relocated to a gently suggested Soviet Block with it’s marbled walls and leaders portraits, a nod also perhaps to the troubled political times we find ourselves living today.

Upon entering the theatre James Cotterill and Ciaran Bagnall’s impressive set and lighting design looms large; making use of the full height of the Octagon it is dominant, multi-levelled and imposing. In the opening scenes at the funeral of Hamlet’s father we quickly get an idea of the style of this production, beautifully and dramatically lit, scenes change at a pace from bright and bold to soft and brooding.

Hamlet Production PhotosPhoto Credit : The Other Richard

Hamlet Production Photos Photo Credit : The Other Richard

Taking on the title role is the hugely impressive David Ricardo-Pearce, the tragic Prince, torn away from his studies abroad to a kingdom in turmoil, his Uncle taking not only the throne from Hamlet’s dead father but also Hamlet’s own mother to be his new bride. Overcome with confusion and grief the haunting sight of his dead father’s ghost sends Hamlet further into the depths of despair as he strives to find clarity in a world he feels increasingly uncertain.

Ricardo-Pearce delivers the multi-layered prince with conviction, playful yet proud, intense and sardonic. He takes of the task of avenging his father’s murder with fervour as he struggles to find an outlet for his grief, he is unflinching in his quest for retribution. At times addressing the audience directly, Ricardo-Pearce’s commitment to the role is exceptional as he questions, considers and confirms his plans.

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The supporting cast are equally as impressive. Jessica Baglow captivates entirely as the broken and grief-stricken Ophelia, singing gently as she weeps for the loss of her love Hamlet and her father, her mind turns to madness. Eric Potts injects great humour amidst the intensity as the trusted Polonius while Brian Protheroe is impressive as the cold and composed Claudius. Marc Small makes for a loyal and committed Horatio while Michael Peavoy is a charismatic and dignified Laertes.

Thacker’s emphasis on the family tragedy of Hamlet reaps dramatic rewards, with the delivery of the script some of the clearest I’ve seen, this Hamlet is accessible and gripping, it feels fresh and inspired with the cast working together perfectly to deliver and engaging and enormously entertaining piece of theatre.

Hamlet Production Photos Photo Credit : The Other Richard

A great Hamlet of course rests enormously on the lead, Ricardo –Pearce succeeds entirely in involving the audience in his journey as we experience and feel not only Hamlet’s broken and disillusioned heart but his manic and mesmerising mind. Fast-paced, gripping and utterly compelling.

On at the Octagon Theatre until Saturday 10th March tickets available here.

Love’s Labour’s Lost

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A wonderful additional to this years offerings celebrating 400 years since the death of William Shakespeare, The RSC bring not one but two of the Bard’s works to Manchester this Christmas time. Love’s Labour’s Lost and Much Ado About Nothing, argued by some that the latter is another name for Shakespeare’s missing play, Love’s Labour’s Won, the similarities between the two are plentiful, both being set on a large county estate, sparring couples, masked encounters, mistaken identities and of course hilarious high jinx including overheard and secretly observed sonnets. Playing back to back at Manchester’s Opera House before heading to the Theatre Royal Haymarket , both productions are an absolute triumph.

Opening with the King of Navarre (Sam Alexander) and his three Lords, Berowne (Edward Bennett), Longaville (William Belchambers), and Dumaine (Tunji Kasim), swearing an oath  which includes avoiding contact with women for a lengthy three years, shortly followed by the arrival of the beautiful Princess of France (Leah Whitaker) and her ladies Rosaline (Lisa Dillon), Katharine (Rebecca Collingworth) and Maria (Paige Carter) it soon becomes clear this was an oath that was never going to easily run it’s course. Cue much merriment and classic Shakespearean rhyme while completly against their oath the Lords fall in love with the ladies and of course the King with the Princess.

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Don Armado (John Hodgkinson), a Spaniard visiting the King’s court, is also hit by Cupid’s bow, but rather than with a Lady of the court he is taken by Jaquenetta, (Emma Manton) a local dairymaid who has recently been found cavorting with Costard (Nick Haverson) the gardner. So ensues the writing of love notes, delivered of course to the wrong recipient. The unconventional courtships continue with a wonderful scene where we see the King and his Lords disguising themselves as travelling Muscovites which leads to hilarious scenes of Russian dancing and the ladies switching identities themselves through the swapping of favours received by the Lords and the use of elegant masks.

Working with the same company of actors and setting both plays either side of the Great War adds real poignancy to the ending of Love’s Labour’s Lost, sometimes described at the ‘unfinished play’ the merriment and frivolity of the play comes to an abrupt end when the King and his Lord’s head off to war, much as life for many must have been as their young men suddenly headed off to the battlefields of Northern France.

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The cast are exceptional, the talent on stage an absolute joy to watch, from Edward Bennett’s brilliant Berowne to John Hodgkinson’s hilarious Don Armado the comic timing and delivering of the Bard’s script is just perfection. Special mention to Peter McGovern whose Moth was magnificent, not to mention his Hercules in the ‘Nine Worthies’ which had the audience in hysterics.

Visually stunning, Simon Higlet’s set is outstanding, with scene changes flowing beautifully due to the ingenious use of a large sliding truck and sub-stage trap. Where Much Ado is festive and twinkling, Love’s Labour’s Lost takes place in the summertime of 1914 when skies are blue and poppies, in a nod to the impending Great War are plentiful. Melody Wood’s luxurious costumes are delightful, perfectly encapsulating the period. The use of music by Nigel Hess, directed by Bob Broad, further enhances this production, filmically underscoring certain moments and offering some challenging vocal pieces which the cast embrace wonderfully.

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Love’s Labour’s Lost is an absolute joy, highly entertaining and wonderfully acted. Playing at Manchester’s Opera House until Saturday 3rd December.

http://www.atgtickets.com/shows/loves-labours-lost/opera-house-manchester/

Much Ado About Nothing – Opera House

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Now that we have witnessed the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Edward Bennett electrocuted inside a giant Christmas tree, the festive season can officially begin!
What better way to mark the conclusion of 2016 – and the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death – than with two of the Bard’s best-loved comedies, played on consecutive nights at the Opera House Manchester, with the same cast?
Director Christopher Luscombe and production manager Paul Hennessey’s grand experiment examines the long-rumoured synergies between Love’s Labour’s Lost and Much Ado About Nothing – setting them in the same country estate (modelled on Charlecote Park, near Shakespeare’s Stratford-upon-Avon) and bookmarking them in summer and winter, before and after the Great War. 
Both deliver a witty, sparring couple; a supporting cast of characters that include a policeman, a curate and many domestic servants; masked encounters between lovers; and – one of Shakespeare’s favourite devices – endless cases of mistaken identity. 
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Associate director Guy Unsworth concludes that Shakespeare ‘deliberately shows us two sides of the same coin’ and ‘does indeed want us to view them as an extended double-bill’… Mark thee well!
Anon – immersing ourselves in Much Ado About Nothing’s wintry scenes on a cold Mancunian night – we encounter fast-talking, resolutely single bachelorette Beatrice (Lisa Dillon), who declares: ‘I had rather hear my dog bark at a crow than a man swear he loves me’. The equally marriage-adverse Benedick (Edward Bennett) has just returned from the war, yet it is Beatrice’s quick-fire degradations of his character – spoken at a masked dance – that leave him mortally wounded. 
Their union seems doomed until their eavesdropping antics reveal a surprising fact… they are each madly in love with the other. These revelatory conversations – staged by Benedick and Beatrice’s family and friends, for their benefit – are some of the funniest scenes in the production. Bennett’s comedic antics inside the family Christmas tree solicit great guffaws of appreciation from the audience; it feels inevitable when he breaks the fourth wall – dissolving into barely suppressed laughter himself.  
In another plot, Beatrice’s cousin Hero (Rebecca Collingwood), who radiates chastity and goodness, is due to be married to besotted Claudio (Tunji Kasim); however, he jilts her at the altar when her name is sullied by an accusation of infidelity. With Beatrice and Benedict’s – and Hero and Claudio’s – unions both hanging in the balance, could it be that all hopes rest on hapless constable Dogberry (Nick Haverson) riding to the rescue?
Gripped in a fit of body spasms and crashing around the set, it feels as though he is perilously close to tumbling from the stage; Haverson gives every fibre of his being to the slapstick comedic stylings of Dogberry. Along with Lisa Dillon, his performance is a highlight among the sublime cast – assembled by Gabrielle Dawes and Helena Palmer.  
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Designer Simon Higlett has created a sumptuous Christmas card-style stage – rich, festive and twinkling. His team seamlessly interchange between the house and its grounds by virtue of a large sliding truck and the sub-stage trap. It’s as ingenious as it is beautiful – complemented by Melody Wood’s sumptuous period costumes that brilliantly encapsulate fashion on the cusp of the 1920s. 
This is the second time that composer Nigel Hess has scored the two plays for the RSC, but with exception of a couple of affection quotes, he has revisited them again with completely new music. To further explore the cohesion between the comedies, he uses musical cross-references between the two productions. It’s a triumph, with nuances that complement the on-stage gusto and frivolity to perfection. 
Christmas is a season of laughter and good cheer – and you will find both in these sparkling, immaculate productions by one of our nation’s greatest treasures: the Royal Shakespeare Company. 
Love’s Labour’s Lost and Much Ado About Nothing are on at Opera House Manchester until Saturday, 3 December.

King Lear, Opera House, Manchester

An exciting addition to the current offerings celebrating 400 years since the death of William Shakespeare is Director Max Webster’s touring production of King Lear with the mighty Michael Pennington wearing the tragic Kings crown.

Pennington gives an absolute masterclass in classical acting, he is utterly mesmerising, angry and fierce one moment, fragile and vulnerable the next, he draws the audience in and you quickly forget there are a few hundred other theatre goers around you.

The transition from powerful tyrant at the start of the play where Lear wrongly disowns adoring daughter Cordelia (Beth Cooke) to the final scenes where we see him broken and maddened by sorrow is enormous, captivating and totally heart-breaking. Misjudging his two eldest daughters loyalty, Lear finds himself increasingly desperate, stripped of his wealth and majesty, the respect he was once shown is now forgotten and he is left to live with the past mistakes he has made.

In addition to Pennington’s fine performance is a very strong cast who each in turn deliver fantastic performances. Lear’s two eldest daughters, Goneril and Regan are played expertly by Catherine Bailey and Sally Scott, an evil duo who grow increasingly twisted with the power bestowed upon them. Similarly the warped relationship between brothers Edgar (Gavin Fowler) and Edmund (Scott Karim) is played out perfectly, the villainy of Edmund leading to the brutal demise of his own father Gloucester (Pip Donaghy) offers Edgar the opportunity to secretly nurse and care for the Father he was forced through the evils of his brother to flee.

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Adrian Linford’s set is sparse but effective, allowing the actors to be the firm focus of this production. At just under three hours including an interval it is not a short production by any means but Director Max Webster maintains a great pace and flow which combined with the fine performances on stage keep you totally engaged.

Although one of Shakespeare’s most bloodthirsty tragedies, this excellent production offers wit, humour and many moving moments, it is beautifully accessible Shakespeare, unpretentious, poignant and totally gripping.

On at the Opera House until Saturday 4th June, tickets available here; http://www.atgtickets.com/shows/king-lear-2016/opera-house-manchester/