Here is another palpable hit from the wonderful world of Bourneville; this magical artistic state (more commonly known as New Adventures) from which familiar texts are given a complete makeover of place and time in a modernised narrative dispossessed of words. Sir Matthew Bourne’s revitalised interpretations of the full house of Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev ballet scores has now been completed by this fascinating new construct for the latter’s Romeo and Juliet. As is the norm, Bourne has also stamped his mark in a subtle change to the title; in this case with a tweet-friendly “+” sign linking the star-cross’d lovers’ names.

Cordelia Braithwaite (Juliet) and Paris Fitzpatrick (Romeo) © Johan Persson
Cordelia Braithwaite (Juliet) and Paris Fitzpatrick (Romeo)
© Johan Persson

Rethinking Romeo and Juliet is a regular artistic pastime and Bourne, together with his extensive team of Associates (including the novel addition of a young associate in every discipline), has succeeded in finding a special niche in a very crowded marketplace; one that is much altered and yet still remains surprisingly relevant. The action takes place inside the Verona Institute, ‘in the not too distant future’: the purpose being the detention of difficult adolescents, as evidenced by guards and security gates. The notion of familial rivalry (Capulets/Montagues) or ethnic gangs (the Jets and Sharks of West Side Story) is replaced by an “us and them” of the young detainees and their guards, of whom the monstrous abuser Tybalt is the heaviest hand (a sneering, brutal characterisation by Dan Wright).

Encouraged by the success of his youth-orientated production of Lord of the Flies, Bourne has again returned to a committed focus on young performers (and artistic collaborators), including the casting of six pre-professional dancers, aged 16-20, from the local area for each venue. These dancers in this London cast aligned seamlessly with the nine New Adventures’ professionals as the Institute’s inmates, performing with disciplined precision and unity in all of the group dances, including a fine opening number, danced to the familiar Montagues and Capulets theme (often known as the Dance of the Knights).

Paris Fitzpatrick (Romeo) © Johan Persson
Paris Fitzpatrick (Romeo)
© Johan Persson

Prokofiev’s full instrumentation for Romeo and Juliet requires a large orchestra although Terry Davies’ orchestration reduces the whole to just nineteen musicians, many doubling up on instruments. The result is a sort of “pick and mix” of Prokofiev’s main themes, some of which are repeated, which is of little consequence since no production other than that by Mark Morris uses the score, as originally composed. The small orchestra, conducted by Brett Morris, produces a sound that retains majesty and colour, whilst understandably losing some detail.

Lez Brotherston’s set was a utilitarian design that worked for every purpose, enshrining the institutional emphasis with a curved wall representing Victorian glazed white bricks, having two doorways marked for “boys” and “girls” with stairs at the side and “submarine” ladders embedded into the walls to provide for performing at height (particularly in the revision of the traditional Balcony Scene). As ever, Paule Constable’s lighting designs accentuated and enhanced the Brotherston style, which is so integral to the New Adventures brand.

Cordelia Braithwaite (Juliet), Paris Fitzpatrick (Romeo) and Dan Wright (Tybalt) © Johan Persson
Cordelia Braithwaite (Juliet), Paris Fitzpatrick (Romeo) and Dan Wright (Tybalt)
© Johan Persson

These title roles were career-making performances for Paris Fitzpatrick and Cordelia Braithwaite. Fitzpatrick is blessed with an expressive face, helping to establish the character of this troubled young man – with obsessive tics and uncontrollable nervousness – who is sectioned to the Institute by an uncaring politician father and his trophy wife (Matt Petty and Daisy May Kemp). Juliet is already detained, routinely abused by Tybalt, and the pair lock eyes, not at the Capulet ball, but at a social event for the juveniles, which hilariously turns into an explosion of lust the moment the guards’ attention is diverted!

Bourne’s choreography is deliciously descriptive throughout but the two key duets for Romeo and Juliet are beautifully composed, highly original and danced with great passion by these two charming leads. There is also plenty of humour. I loved the fact that at the very musical moment that the nurse cups Juliet’s hands over her breasts in Kenneth MacMillan’s choreography, Bourne has Romeo – clad only in underpants – covering his genitals!

We saw this comic revelation twice, since it was immediately after this scene of Romeo’s undressing by Benvolio (Harrison Dowzell) and Balthasar (Jackson Fisch), that the performance was halted by Bourne’s own appearance onstage to explain that Mercutio (Balthasar’s boyfriend) should also have participated in that sequence but regrettably Reece Causton had sustained an injury (to his ankle) in the preceding action and was unable to continue. Ben Brown (Mercutio in the second cast) was summoned from home and he must live nearby because within twelve minutes the scene was re-run. It was an exemplary object lesson in how to deal decisively with a mid-performance cast change and the production ran seamlessly from thereon. Commiserations to Causton and credit to Brown for saving the day, so well. It was a cipher for the youthful enthusiasm and solid teamwork of a production that seems certain to add yet more lustre to the Bourne legacy.

*****