REVIEW: Romeo & Juliet, Northern Ballet, New Victoria Theatre

This revival staging by Omar Gordon and Daniel de Andrade strips back William Shakespeare’s story to let Jean-Christophe Maillot’s choreography really stand out – but can leave you feeling cold. 

Northern Ballet dancers in Jean-Christophe Maillot%27s Romeo and Juliet. Photo Andy Ross.jpg
Northern Ballet dancers in Les Ballets de Monte Carlo’s Romeo and Juliet. Photograph: Andy Ross.

Once again, Northern Ballet prove exactly why as a company they are one of the best dance companies around in this refreshing and unique interpretation of Romeo and Juliet, set to the rousing music of Sergei Prokofiev.

What Jean-Christophe Maillot does in his choreography is capture the youthful spirit of the central characters in a production that takes a unique perspective of seeing the story through the eyes of Friar Laurence, whose actions lead to the tragic ending.

Set on the blank canvas that is Ernest Pignon-Ernest’s set, the production has a slightly slow and stilted start by featuring projections listing the credits, which doesn’t seem necessary to point out considering that audiences will already know who will be performing thanks to the programme.

However, once the story begins there is definitely plenty of energy and moments to get you smiling – particularly due to the antics of the Nurse, played with enthusiasm and quality by Pippa Moore. There is also a great hint of drama as seen in the wonderfully choreographed first fight between Mercutio(Ashley Dixon), Benvolio (Riku Ito) and Tybalt (Mlindi Kulashe).

But while the blankness of the set allows the audience to appreciate the movement of the dancers, it means that the elements of the story are lost in terms of setting the scene that can be disorientating, making every important moment blur into the next, particularly in the second act between the second fatal fight between Mercutio and and Tybalt and then jumping almost too quickly to the scene in Juliet’s bedroom – the two scenes seem merged together with no breathing space.

On the other side of this, Jean-Christophe Maillot manages to draw out the comedy from the tragic, particularly in the street scene after the ball, the use of puppetry to really add a lighter moment – even if we know that it isn’t going to last. By putting the Friar at the centre of proceedings, who seems to be always involved from a distance, almost as if he is trying to stop the events from unfolding and is a very clever and refreshing storytelling device.

Tobias Batley as Romeo and Dreda Blow have a gorgeous chemistry together, both capturing the youthfulness of their characters perfectly. When they dance together it is romantic and believable. Other performances to enjoy include Pippa Moore as the Nurse, whose comical expressions and dancing really lift the spirit, while Joseph Taylor as Friar Laurence is tormented by his actions and his guilt, coming through every movement.

Essentially, while the dancing is first rate, the production itself leaves you feeling cold and not as involved with the story as you would hope – with the starkness of the set and the plot not coming across as strongly as it could. The audience however truly appreciated the quality of the dancing which was faultless.

Northern Ballet’s Romeo and Juliet will play at the New Victoria Theatre until Saturday 8th October, before continuing to tour. To buy tickets while it is at Woking visit ATG Tickets.

Rating: ❤❤❤

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