‘Ballet with a 21st Century twist’, as the programme tagline promises us, is never going to be to everyone’s taste but for those who have always found Shakespeare a little inaccessible, with extensive lists of characters and irrelevant subplots, this production will certainly speak to you. Offering us a completely scaled down cast with only ten characters, choreographer Adrienne Canterna has created a bite-sized version of the classic love story where the plot moves at 100mph and shows no sign of pausing for breath until the infamous denouement and I loved it for this.
Canterna’s set is simple with a bare stage throughout and a single projected image per scene to denote location. Characters are introduced in the opening interlude with their names looming large on the stage as they each make their entrance with Canterna playing the role of Juliet.
Music jumps between Prokofiev’s classic score and a pop jukebox of Katy Perry, Lady Gaga and pumping club anthems from LMFAO and Run DMC. Occasionally the transitions between modern and traditional are a little clunky but for me the combination works, partly due to the work of the small but charismatic cast. There are some wonderful moments of storytelling and the modern interpretation of the Capulet costume ball where ghoulish masks are donned and the supporting characters of Mercutio, Benvolio and Tybalt parade up and down in front of the waiting paparazzi is a nice touch.
Preston Swovelin’s Romeo is likeable enough and is an able suitor for flighty Juliet but the production quite literally belongs to Canterna. Her role as choreographer is evident from the passion and dynamism with which she moves. She is an exceptional dancer with bags of charisma to boot; she’s an entirely believable excitable teenager with an expressive face and can equally pull off a triple pirouette barefoot without a problem. There is a brief but delicious scene where she flounces around her bedroom thinking of Romeo to Katy Perry’s ‘Teenage Dream’; it’s pretty perfect at encompassing her yearning for him with a fluffy teenage wistfulness.
The wedding scene that closes Act One to ‘Edge of Glory’ is also particular uplifting and uses the music well and the moments using the full cast are clean and well-rehearsed. The poorest aspect in the production was the excessive lighting which frequently meant I had to look away so as not to be dazzled. It was a theme that was to be repeated again in Act Two and was frustrating as it distracted from the simplicity of the storytelling.
Canterna even manages to make the morbid conclusion of Shakespeare’s tale elevating, for the protagonists have only just about had time to die before My Chemical Romance’s ‘Black Parade’ is being blasted out to form an energetic finale. Despite having danced almost solidly for the last two hours, Canterna still bounces around the stage with insane enthusiasm, I can’t express how much I enjoyed her style. I only wish Shakespeare could have been this much fun at school.
Romeo and Juliet is playing at the Peacock Theatre until 29 March. For tickets and more information, see the Sadler’s Wells website.