Romeo and Juliet Review

Sheffield Lyceum – until 6 April 2024

Reviewed by Sal E Marino


Romeo and Juliet, the greatest symbolic story of love in all its forms is performed at its best as a ballet and especially when executed by the outstanding Northern Ballet team. Love is the most powerful energy we can feel and because we feel it in our body before thinking it in our mind and translating it into thoughts and words, the narrative is communicated so much more strongly to the audience when its somatic. No words are needed to tell this tale Shakespeare penned; love is felt. Through these two young people, who are victims of their circumstances beyond their control, that being the imposition of their families – the two ‘houses’ – we experience the highly potent emotions of: romantic love, sexual love, forbidden love, family love and of course – tragic love. The love is tragic because following their true destinies means breaking the rules of tradition and what’s expected of them but who wants to live a life half loved?

Romeo and Juliet are ‘star crossed lovers’; its in their destiny and so we know it’s going to end in death and so the biggest binary here is that of love and death. What Jospeh Taylor (Romeo) and Abigail Prudames (Juliet) deliver to us by how they move together in perfect harmony so exquisitely (through the brilliant direction by Christopher Gable and choreography by Massimo Moricone) is that they make us feel their perfect, passionate love and that’s what we take away from this ballet more than their deaths – is their love. Love is triumphant and, in the end, it transforms the two families, it brings them together – it’s what we remember and why we call it the ‘greatest love story’, not the ‘greatest tragedy’. Love wins!

In Act 1, the Northern Ballet transport us to ‘fair Verona’ but straight away we see it’s not really that ‘fair’ as the theme of violence and the discord between the two houses quickly erupts with the warning that bloodshed will be punished by death is issued. Dressed from the crown to the toe in black and red, Harry Skoupas dancing as Tybalt, straight away from his first step exudes arrogance and masculine prowess. The essence of the Capulets is that of a Mafia-type tribe and Tybalt is the prince of this clan and he wields the biggest sword. During the famous ‘Dance of the Knights’, it is Tybalt who is at the forefront leading the movement. The control, precision and potent power of this sequence is intoxicating! Prokofiev’s music played by the Northern Ballet sinfonia (conducted by Daniel Parkinson) goes deep to one’s inner root energy centres – it’s the theme tune of power, wickedness and a villain and it’s breathtaking! (Please forget Alan Sugar’s Apprentice – which it’s association with this masterpiece is insulting!).

In complete contrast and in the-blink-of an eye, we witness the meeting of Romeo and Juliet at the ball and in Juliet’s Garden where love is declared. The ethereal quality of the movements between the two protagonists takes one into a place that Shakespeare intended, ‘some otherwhere’. The lightness and soft sensuality of Taylor and Prudames dance arrangements performed within this beautiful set makes you feel like they are on their own celestial sphere and you never want them to part. These two young lovers belong together and that is when as an audience member you fall in love with their love.

Lady Capulet (Amber Lewis), so like a queen commands the stage and her family. Striking, dramatic and fierce, she becomes the one you can’t take your eyes off when she’s on stage and her outpouring of grief for Tybalt as she smears his blood, is like watching an unearthly creature vent its rage on the world. Very aptly, the heavens open and rain fires down on the stage during her torturous rampage. My concerns that my teenage daughter, who is studying this text for GCSE English literature, might not ‘get’ the ballet were instantly dispelled when she gripped my arm at this sensational interval and said, “It’s wonderful!”. I know when she takes her exam she will now write with absolute passion in answer to any question after seeing this production and I now have a life-long companion to accompany me to futures ballets.

Everything in the Northern Ballet’s Romeo and Juliet set and costume design had class and that ancient style that is required to take you back into Shakespeare’s imagining. The chapel where we meet Friar Lawrence (George Liang) immediately gives a sense of peace and a safe refuge. Through his simple gestures and graceful movements Liang conveys calm and holiness. It’s mesmerising how through very simple head moves and body twists a character can be translated through dance and this was demonstrated like a masterclass through the characterization of Juliet’s nurse – the amazing Heather Lehan. Heather gives us pure comedy in her portrayal of this fussy, lovable lady and my heart was breaking (and I shed my first tears of the night) when Juliet was bound under force to Paris, because her nurse so desperately wanted to help her but couldn’t. The love that should have been one between mother and daughter was shared between Juliet and nurse and I still don’t know how they conveyed this just through sad glances and tugs of the caretaker’s skirts. Their love, though powerless in this patriarchal society, was deeper than the wounds they were about to endure and it was during Juliet’s funeral that the nurse’s love for her charge poured out more than her mother’s.

The Capulet’s crypt is the final destination of the ballet and the whole theatre was on the edge of their seats as by now we were all totally in love with the couple. Within the next few minutes, we went from tragedy to hope to tragedy again. The grace with which Romeo and Juliet end up entwined in their demise is beautifully sequenced and their love is sealed forever. The final image of the two young lovers is tragic but we end with their fathers’ embracing and so love is restored. This performance will set your heart on fire and is like seeing poetry in motion, I can’t imagine a better way of experiencing Romeo and Juliet other than as a ballet.