Music: Sergei Prokofiev
Choreography: Kenneth MacMillan
Artistic Director: David Bintley CBE
Reviewer: Peter Jacobs
Romeo and Juliet is an established ballet classic around the world, as well as a cornerstone of the Birmingham Royal Ballet’s repertoire. In this year celebrating 400 years of Shakespeare it still seems an important representation of the man’s work.
This production was first choreographed by Kenneth MacMillan in 1965 and given a complete overhaul in 1992 shortly after the Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet moved to Birmingham and became the company we know today. And this production retains its magnificence.
Paul Andrews’ designs and John B. Read’s lighting still have an evocative and extravagant power to impress, scenes looking like a series of Renaissance paintings come to life – none more beautiful than the ballroom scene in Act I. The Birmingham Royal Ballet’s depth of cast and skill at creating vibrant natural group scenes brings life and colour to the market place and the ballroom. Prokofiev’s music, which was considered undanceable when first presented to the Kirov after commissioning it in 1935, has stood the test of time and come to be one of the most loved and richly-coloured ballet scores of the modern epoch.
So, the production and the choreography retain its power and magnificence leaving only the performances of this one-of-several casts to review. Momoko Hirata’s Juliet is sweetly vulnerable and childlike and yet she manages the transition after Romeo has spent the night following the secret wedding to a young woman determined to take control of her fate, and her final scenes – her final rejection of unwanted suitor Paris and her decision to take the potion that will put her in a death-like sleep are powerfully played. Her final scene as she discovers her Romeo dead in the crypt upon her awakening is suitably moving. But there are other issues…
Joseph Caley’s Romeo seems a little dramatically underpowered and he doesn’t quite convince as the carefree boy turned determined and passionate lover. The intimate connection with Juliet in the balcony scene and when he leaves her in the morning isn’t fully made. Distance lingers. The fact that Paris is played with dignity and conviction by Feargus Campbell doesn’t help: Paris is a role with room to create different interpretations. Because this Paris seems genuine in his affection and interest in Juliet, rather than viewing her as the trophy bride of a vain and foolish man, her rejection of him carries a note of sorrow that somehow reflects poorly on her and Romeo. Although her pointe work is exquisite. This is tempered by the failure to indicate a strong relationship between Juliet and her parents who seem cool and strategically detached from their daughter’s well-being: Juliet’s clearest parent is generally the nurse in any case, here nicely played by Ruth Brill.
The other issue is with Romeo’s best friend Mercutio. James Barton’s lively characterisation somehow makes him the leader within the trio of friends, and brings an unexpected note of malice to their boyish mischief. As Rory Mackay’s Tybalt is played with considerable (if bad-tempered) dignity, this makes Mercutio’s seemingly-endless death scene seem like just desserts and Romeo’s revenge on Tybalt less justified. Lady Capulet’s violent grief gives Tybalt’s death a gravity and sense of injustice that Mercutio’s death somehow lacks. When Romeo rushes away from Juliet after their wedding night, having made himself an exile through his actions, it diminishes one’s sense of the purity of their love. This Romeo seems rash rather than a man motivated by true and over-powering love.
But these are the minor niggles of someone who has seen this and other productions of Romeo and Juliet before, perhaps.
Overall, the Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Romeo and Juliet is magnificent. Ultimately, the strength of the design, the choreography, the music, and the company triumph. The beauty of the final scene and the creeping sense of darkness and wasted life lingers as the curtain falls.
Runs until 5 March