Originally created for The Royal Ballet and inspired by Shakespeare’s play, Romeo and Juliet is now established as one of Kenneth MacMillan’s most popular full-length works. Prokofiev’s music is widely regarded as one of the greatest scores of the 20th century and the lavish design by Paul Andrews, based on the original by Nicholas Georgiadis, mean this production should not fail to impress and the performance by Birmingham Royal Ballet at Sadler’s Wells, with music from the Royal Ballet Sinfonia, does not disappoint.

Robert Parker as Romeo, photo: Bill Cooper
Robert Parker as Romeo, photo: Bill Cooper

We are transported immediately to the literal and metaphorical heat of Verona and the conflict between the Montagues and the Capulets by the sumptuous sets and costumes, reminiscent of the Italian renaissance. The ballet strips bare the essentials of Shakespeare’s tale and through sheer physicality takes us on the emotional and psychological journey of the two protagonists, particularly that of Juliet.

Elisha Willis is simply a joy to watch and she steals the production as she portrays Juliet’s development from child to romantic teenager to a woman with intense feelings. In her first enchanting appearance on stage the lightness and delicacy of her steps captures Juliet’s girlish innocence perfectly, a young child more interested in playing with her doll and teasing her nurse than colluding with the marriage plans of her parents. When she is required to dance with Paris, Steven Monteith, she is at first reluctant and embarrassed, and later towards the end of the production, she is defiantly unwilling to partner him. This is a marked contrast to the force and strength of the passion on display when she dances with Romeo, Robert Parker, following her romantic awakening. The scenes between the two lovers are some of the most intimate, rapturous pas de deux in classical ballet as they celebrate their feelings for each other. A poignant contrast to the moving tragedy of the final scene where Romeo attempts to bring Juliet back to life by recreating their dance together while she, in a deep sleep, is merely a limp, lifeless accompaniment to his life force.

Another powerful highlight of the production is the ballroom scene where the combination of Prokofiev’s majestic music, MacMillan’s courtly choreography and Andrew’s design is a visually arresting show-stopper. Mathias Dingman puts in a confident performance as the mercurial Mercutio as does Rory Mackay as Tybalt, Steven Monteith as Paris and Tyrone Singleton as Benvolio.

This year Birmingham Royal Ballet celebrates 20 years in the West Midlands. Before their move in 1990 the company was known as Sadlers Well’s Royal Ballet and it is a true delight to see them perform this popular, hugely enjoyable classic in their spiritual home.

Find details of the rest of their season's performances here.