Romeo and Juliet – one of Shakespeare’s most famous plays and easily one of the most famous love stories, is also one of the most overdone. The star-crossed lovers have divided opinion for some time, some believing the tragedy to be the height of romance and others seeing the time-frame of such a grand love affair to be unrealistic at best. Appropriately, my opinion is divided about & Juliet – at the interval I am not sold on this reimagining, but in true Shakespearean style, my opinion takes an eleventh hour turn by the time the final note has been sung.
& Juliet is a jukebox musical which utilises the gargantuan collection of hits that Max Martin has acquired over the years as both a writer and producer. The concept is penned by David West Read, and takes Martin’s array of love songs and works them into the ultimate tale of love and all its complications.
West Read’s plot sees Shakespeare’s wife Anne Hathaway take the lead on rewriting Shakespeare’s original ending. Road-trips, parties and love affairs ensue, which are all meant to serve Anne’s intention of giving Juliet the freedom to ultimately write her own ending.
Here lies my first conflicting opinion: pre-interval I am a little sceptical. No specific time frame means that Shakespeare exists at the same time as the Eiffel tower, Anne and William jump in and out of the story they are writing, blurring the perspective, and I am not sold on the songs which fit well enough, but have clearly been moulded to do so. Post-interval I am more on board; the songs seem to support the humour and the drama more and the plot only intensifies in energy and pace. Conclusion? As an audience member you have to make a decision at some point whether to give over to this musical or not. Yes, it is a little throwaway with the original text, but what exists in its place is pretty fun to witness.
This brings me on to my second conflict. Shakespeare’s original text is so lyrical in the way it is written that I am positive songs could be pulled out of the play’s pages. Instead, the narrative is accompanied by pop songs taken from a throwback playlist of the last two decades. Initially something feels off about this concept, but soon there is no denying that my feet are tapping and I am enjoying the blatantly obvious, yet somehow pleasing correlation between script and song.
The one element I am not conflicted about is the performances. Vocally this cast sing the originals we all know and love with real power. They play up the storytelling and are the cement that confirms these pop classics as musical showstoppers. Our leading lady Miriam Teak-Lee is the life and soul of this party, delivering song after song with no relent. Lee’s ‘Since U Been Gone’ and a rendition of ‘Everybody’ to rival the Backstreet Boys performed by Oliver Tompsett, Arun Blair-Mangat, David Bedella and Jordan Luke Gage, seem to really get the audience going. The cast’s strength plays a huge part in getting me on side.
This musical may end up dividing opinions as much as the original; I wasn’t sure for a while, but here’s my conclusion: the truth is, I enjoy watching this story unfold and the audience really love it. With that in mind, I think the Bard said it best – “if music be the food of love, play on”.
& Juliet is playing the Shaftesbury Theatre until 27 June. For more information and tickets, visit the Shaftesbury Theatre website.