This quote being almost the sum total of my prior knowledge of Romeo and Juliet, I was a surprised to learn the night before the performance of Prokofiev's famous ballet that, being a ballet, there would be absolutely no dialogue between the players on stage - the only sound would be the orchestra playing what many will be most familiar with as the theme music from The Apprentice. I know the basic plot of Romeo and Juliet - boy meets girl, girl meets boy, they fall illicitly in love, girl feigns death, boy kills himself, girl kills herself - but not knowing any more than this I was afraid I would not understand much without the aid of a plot summary throughout.

Alas, I had underestimated the power of ballet.

What struck me from the start was that even the most subtle plot point was made crystal clear, partly by the beautiful and moving playing of the orchestra which highlighted every emotion but also simply by the fantastic acting and choreography of the dancers on stage. Dramatic hand gestures, touching moments made clear by the dancing, a distinct colour coding of the costumes according to allegiance (Capulets were red, Montagues were green, and the two lovers danced either in pure white or in a blend of the two colours)... every aspect of the production was carefully considered to reflect and build upon the emotions evoked by the action. Nor was street life in Renaissance Venice sanitised for a decidedly high-brow audience - bawdy gestures and peripheral scenes of physical affection amongst townspeople made this a highly realistic and engaging set. I was particularly pleased by the decision to stage the ballet in period costume - artistic license aside, there's something special about seeing Romeo and Juliet in the attire imagined by Shakespeare that is lost in a modern reinterpretation. As a result we were treated to a rich and varied collection of hats, robes, breeches and stockings in luxuriant colours and fabrics - even the hairstyles looked as if they had been taken out of an oil-on-canvas. Nor were Romeo and Juliet the only characters on stage - all around them women stood haggling with street sellers or Italian nobles sat feasting, oblivious to the romance taking place a couple of feet beside them. All this attention to detail made the production a visual feast and really helped to recreate the world in which the protagonists lived.

Prokofiev's score to the ballet is justifiably one of the most well-known in the genre. The militaristic grandeur of the march of the Montagues and Capulets contrasts with the delicate beauty of the love music played while the two lovers dance. Not only does the score form a half of the ballet as important as the dancing itself but it also stands alone as a work of art - it is no surprise that many of the movements have themselves entered popular culture. There was even one section which reminded me strongly of another of Prokofiev's works, his score to Peter and the Wolf. Harsher moments were often accompanied on stage by the aggressive waving of weapons, and many scenes of fencing - all conducted with the same graceful elegance of the rest of the ballet - added an unexpected excitement to the performance, certainly with respect to the male half of the audience. Whoever said that ballet was for girls?

Do I have any criticisms? I thought perhaps the colour coding was tricky to understand at first - casting incidental characters in a very similar hue to the Montagues made things a little complicated. And some of the characters did take an awful long time to die (and appeared surprisingly physically capable until their final moments). But in regard to the performance as a whole I was awestruck - the elegance, the intricacy of the detail and the sheer talent of the performers made this an immensely enjoyable introduction to ballet, and I would full-heartedly recommend the performance to anyone - even to those who, like me, find Shakespeare hard to understand even WITH dialogue!

Christopher Howarth, age 17

Christopher saw Romeo and Juliet on 5th January 2011, performed by English National Ballet at London Coliseum

credit: Annabel Moeller.