Birmingham Royal Ballet’s production of Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet varies in some ways from the version that is currently playing at The Royal Opera House. In general, it has to be flexible enough to fit smaller stages for a touring company and inevitably that means smaller: so, for example, Juliet has four friends instead of six and the scenes in the Market Square of Verona are less populous and without the market stalls. This Romeo and Juliet may be slightly less extravagant but it is certainly not lacking for quality in all the finer details of this superb ballet.

Mathias Dingman (Romeo) and Beatrice Parma (Juliet)
© Bill Cooper

It’s a ballet that Birmingham’s director, Carlos Acosta, knows intimately (who could ever forget his performances with Tamara Rojo, in particular) and he has taken a hands-on approach to coaching the BRB principals in their roles. His attention to detail has clearly percolated throughout the company because I have rarely seen such meaningful storytelling through gesture, mime and facial expression applying throughout the whole cast, even in the most transient of roles. It is a blessing that can also be a burden in some scenes, simply because the eye is drawn to every character, each of whom (even in the background) is strongly articulating their particular version of events, which makes the whole experience rife with realism, but can mean that key moments are missed amongst this plethora of simultaneous activity.

Beatrice Parma was a revelation as Juliet, particularly in her winsome portrayal of the young girl, pre-Romeo. The opening scene with her Nurse (Rosanna Ely) and her scenes with Paris (Gabriel Anderson) were supremely delivered in a confusion of childishness and adolescence leading to the excitement of being the centre of attention at the Capulet ball. Mathias Dingman brought a wealth of experience to his portrayal of Romeo and the contrast with the initial innocence of Parma’s Juliet was charming. Their balcony pas de deux was suitably entrancing. I was impressed with Anderson’s reading of Paris, bringing a quick and meaningful journey of facial expression to the contrast of hope and rejection in this most thankless of roles.

Gus Payne (Mercutio) and Valentin Olovyannikov (Tybalt)
© Bill Cooper

Gus Payne and Callum Findlay-White bore a strong bond of joviality as Mercutio and Benvolio respectively and Valentin Olovyannikov brought a haughty swagger to the character of Tybalt. I was impressed by the fluidity of the danced stage fighting in the two market place scenes. More often than not one sees the fighting delivered with unrealistic caution such that the blades often miss one another but not here: the action was delivered with appropriate fury and not a few impressive octave and septime parries. Whoever is coaching the BRB dancers in swordplay has done a great job.   

Laura Day ended Act 2 with a sensational delivery of Lady Capulet's dance of grief; and at the opposite end of the spectrum, the three harlots (Alexandra Burman, Karla Doorbar and Rachele Pizzillo) were tremendous fun but also great examples of how well the cast conveyed every scintilla of emotion. The Mandolin Dance (in those tasseled costumes, which make the dancers appear as if strange alien beasts) was led with suitable aplomb by Miles Gilliver.

Miles Gilliver (Lead Mandolin dancer)
© Bill Cooper

The Royal Ballet Sinfonia, conducted by Philip Ellis, performed Prokofiev’s scintillating score – bristling with character motifs and descriptive passages – with great sensitivity, as one would expect for the country’s largest orchestra devoted to the art of ballet alone.

This performance was excellent and, on the following day, I was privileged to see one of the best performances of MacMillan’s signature ballet that I have yet witnessed. It was as near perfection as I can recall. César Morales and Momoko Hirata were spellbinding in the title roles and there were also strong performances from Tzu-Chao Chou (Mercutio), Haoliang Feng (Benvolio) and Alexander Yap (Paris). Rory Mackay traded in his performance as Lord Capulet on the previous night for another intense immersion into the darkness of Tybalt; and Ely made the striking transition from Nurse to Harlot, performing alongside Emma Price and Eilis Small in an exceptionally strong trio. By the way, speaking of the furious sword-fighting, I hope no-one was injured in the wings with Chou’s exuberant tossing of Mackay’s epée offstage (with quick thinking the latter grabbed a sword from an extra in the crowd and carried on regardless)!

Mathias Dingman (Romeo) and Beatrice Parma (Juliet)
© Bill Cooper

Watching the same ballet twice within 24 hours is not always to be recommended but with performances as good as these I would have happily doubled-up this double if it were possible. Carlos Acosta is bringing a refreshing sense of newness to the company but with these performances he is also ensuring that its core responsibility for storytelling classical ballet is being curated with outstanding attention to all the details. 

****1