Robert Tanitch reviews Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Romeo and Juliet at Sadler’s Wells Theatre, London
Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet was first performed between 1594 and 1596.
The play has inspired musicians (Bellini, Berlioz, Gounod, Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev, Bernstein), choreographers (Mikhail Lavrovsky, John Cranko, Frederick Ashton, Kenneth Macmillan, Rudolf Nureyev to name but a few), and filmmakers (Franco Zeffirelli, Buz Luhrmann and John Madden’s Shakespeare in Love).
The major landmark theatre productions of the 20th century were John Gielgud and Laurence Olivier alternating Romeo and Mercutio opposite Peggy Ashcroft’s Juliet in 1935 and John Stride and Judi Dench in Franco Zeffirelli’s 1960 production at the Old Vic, famous for its realism and humour, which Zeffirelli would later film with such panache.
The first recorded ballet was in 1785.
Sergei Prokofiev’s great score was written in 1935 but there was no Soviet production until 1940.
Kenneth MacMillan took his inspiration from Zeffirelli for his production which was designed by Nicholas Georgiadis. It premiered in 1965 at the Royal Opera House with Rudolf Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn.
MacMillan recreated his ballet with new and very attractive sets and costumes by Paul Andrews for Birmingham Royal Ballet in 1992. The production is set in 15h century Renaissance Verona and the story-line grips.
The pageantry is superb, especially during the ball, which is memorably scored and choreographed. The music, the steps and the carriage of the dancers have a noble hauteur. Other high spots include the balcony scene and the sword fights.
The death of Tybalt, the distraught Romeo and the wailing Lady Capulet is powerful melodrama in the old Lyceum manner. So, too, is the finale in the tomb when Romeo so desperately tries to bring the dead body of Juliet back to life.
The emotional impact is terrific throughout, thanks to the music, the dancing, the acting, the mime and the spectacle. César Morales and Momoke Hirata are the lovers.
There is strong support from Tzu-Chao Chou as Mercutio, Brandon Lawrence as Benvolio. Rory McKay as Tybalt, and Feargus Campbell as Paris.