Review: Romeo & Juliet ballet in Northampton is a treat for newcomers and connoisseurs alike

Cordelia Braithwaite and Paris Fitzpatrick as Juliet and Romeo
Cordelia Braithwaite and Paris Fitzpatrick as Juliet and Romeo

Emily-Jane Clark reviews Matthew Bourne's Romeo & Juliet at the Royal & Derngate, Northampton

Before I begin this review, a quick warning. I know nothing about contemporary dance. In fact, before I went along to see Matthew Bourne’s Romeo and Juliet at the Derngate in Northampton this week, I had never watched a ‘pure’ dance show before. Admittedly, ballet has never really appealed to me. I love dialogue and watching actors use their voices to portray emotions and make audiences laugh or cry in a way I had assumed that dancers could not do. I assumed wrong.

The way the cast of Romeo and Juliet communicated their character's feelings using just their bodies and face expressions was clever, thrilling and hypnotic.

This retelling of Shakespeare’s classic story was set in a mental hospital called The Verona Institute, in the not too distant future.

In this version, the young lovers aren’t kept apart by a family feud, but by a regimented system in which boys and girls are divided and by misogynistic hospital warden, Tybalt, who appeared to want Juliet for himself.

While the dancing was breathtakingly good though the show, I did find some scenes more engaging than others. For example, the dramatic scenes worked brilliantly and the fight between Mercutio, Tybalt, Balthasar and Romeo had the entire auditorium on the edge of their seats.

Whereas, some of the love scenes, although full of beautiful (and pretty raunchy!) dance moves, were a little bit long and cringey for me. It also didn’t help that Romeo (Paris Fitzpatrick) looked like a young boy in contrast to a very womanly looking Juliet (Cordelia Braithwaite), so the mum in me wanted to shout ‘Romeo! Get your clothes on and get off that woman, this minute!”

One of my favourite characters was the charismatic Reece Causton (Mercutio). His stage presence was captivating and the chemistry he had with Jackson Fisch (Balthasar) was amazing.

Dan Wright, who played evil thug Tybalt, was also brilliant. His face expressions and bold, intimidating movements made him the perfect ‘baddy’.

The six young dancers selected to join the Northampton run of the show, Karishma Young, Alanah Corbridge, Elsie Ward, Jamie Blackadder, Edwin Cheng and Matthew Brion were also amazing and every bit as good as the rest of the cast.

Whether you are an avid contemporary ballet fan or new to the genre like me, I would recommend you give Matthew Bourne’s Romeo and Juliet a go. With an amazing soundtrack by Prokofiev, great venue and a brilliant set, it makes for an interesting and engaging night out.

* The show is on until Saturday, 1 June. Visit www.royalandderngate.co.uk for details and bookings.