ContemporaryDanceDramaNorth East & YorkshirePhysical TheatreReview

Juliet & Romeo – Northern School of Contemporary Dance, Leeds

Conceived and directed: Ben Duke

Devised and performed: Ben Duke & Solène Weinachter

Reviewer: Rich Jevons

The tagline for Lost Dogs new show, claims that it:

…tells the real story of Romeo and Juliet. It turns out they didn’t die in a tragic misunderstanding, they grew up and lived happily ever after. Well they lived at least.

We now find them in a mid-life crisis, a dysfunctional relationship and with a child, Sophie, in tow. It seems Romeo did not swallow the vial that was meant to end his life at the sight of the corpse of his lover, who was in fact buried alive in the vault.

At the start of the performance, the couple are sitting in armchairs, while Juliet reels off various problems they are having with their marriage, including in bed. She asks him ten questions, frequently hilarious, that Romeo does not respond to until the end of the performance. 

As part of their couples therapy, they must act out key scenes from their life histories, as seen through their own eyes. So begins some exquisite physical theatre that at times threatens to break out into ballet or even jazz dance.

In this way, they subvert the very notion of the Bard’s tragi-comedy and question its patriarchal and misogynist approach – though this is not exactly a feminist riposte either. Both Duke and Weinachter are perfectly capable of going from whacky slapstick (a steamy but chaotic sex scene) to more delicate and serious movement (the tender slow-motion sequence that ends the show).

The music is used with subtle irony, like The Beatles’ I Want You that accompanies Romeo’s version of their first meeting with much groin-thrusting, or Simon & Garfunkel’s Sound of Silence that comes at entirely the wrong moment. And then the two classical works – Biber and Arvo Pärt – show they can be more thoughtful and reflective too.

And when their baby comes into the equation this does become a battle of the sexes, with Juliet getting the short straw always. The ending is quite teasingly left open, much to the chagrin of some of the audience in the after-show discussion. But probably for the best so as not to be too obvious or even worse attempting a happy one.

This is the kind of show dance-lovers dream of, using all aspects of performance to create a total form of theatre. James Perkins’ set is simple but effective and Jackie Shemesh’s lighting is always spot-on. But above all the devising and subsequent performance are simply incredible, a truly touching tragi-comedy that uses its source material with witty irreverence.

Reviewed on 14 November 2018 | Image: Jane Hobson

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