In 2004 Ben Duke and Raquel Meseguer, both graduates of the London Contemporary Dance School, founded Lost Dog, a dance company aiming to present stories through movement and speech. Several award-winning production later, Lost Dog premiered Juliet & Romeo on Valentine’s Day 2018 at the Battersea Arts Centre in London, offering an alternative ending to the tale of the star-crossed lovers. In this version, both have survived the misunderstanding in the Capulet vault. After 20 years of marriage, however, their relationship is struggling and happy-ever-after seems out of reach.

Ben Duke and Solène Weinachter in <i>Juliet and Romeo</i> © Jane Hobson
Ben Duke and Solène Weinachter in Juliet and Romeo
© Jane Hobson

One of the production's main achievements is to cast a compelling new light on a revered tale. And just as Shakespeare’s ultimate tragedy has universal reach, Lost Dog’s Juliet and Romeo also touches on a widely recognised experience – that of romantic love gone sour. This couple, however idealistic when they started out, have fallen prey to day-to-day routine. Dance movement illustrates this better than words as the pair collide and confront, grabbing and biting. The banality of their struggles, which increasingly become the focus of the performance, is heart-breaking.

At first, however, all is lightness and wit, with Juliet (Solène Weinachter) and Romeo (Ben Duke) breaking the fourth wall the moment they step on stage. As they explain to a delighted and amused audience, they have already taken steps to address their issues, trying everything from psychotherapy to hypnotism and couples massage. Since all have failed, they now plan to try a radical and innovative technique: they will narrate and re-enact decisive moments in their relationship. The retelling of the familiar story thus becomes cringingly hilarious as the grandest gestures are revealed to be fuelled by misunderstanding.

Ben Duke and Solène Weinachter in <i>Juliet and Romeo</i> © Jane Hobson
Ben Duke and Solène Weinachter in Juliet and Romeo
© Jane Hobson

The comic talents of both performers are deployed in depth as they play with the details of the original plot. It is only when the story moves on that cracks appear in the relationship. Weinachter and Duke are equally brilliant in showing us the common sorrows and distress they cause each other. Yet when personal tragedy strikes, each masterfully allows the possibility of hope as they support each other through it.

This performance of Juliet & Romeo – part of a national tour took place in the newly re-opened Linbury Theatre, an intimate wooden cocoon within the Royal Opera House. It proved an ideal setting for the performance, timed to coincide with a longer run of Kenneth MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet set to Prokofiev’s score on the main stage. It is exciting to see a different kind of dance interacting with the Royal Ballet’s programme. Juliet & Romeo is clever in its concept, witty in its development, precise in its interpretation and refreshingly accessible.

*****