Everything I saw at the theatre last week was excellent but grim. Subject matters included reprisal killings in Dublin, domestic abuse nationwide, plague and torture in DRC plus Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Romeo and Juliet. I now feel the need for a short spell in a valerian-infused, softly-furnished No Tears Parlour© watching Cats the musical on a loop (with the old grizzled cat’s ballad excised for reasons of emotional equilibrium).
Unlike the tune to Magical Mister Mistofelees, Prokofiev’s Romeo & Juliet is laden with the presentiment of death: there’s no getting away from the overwhelming doom that inheres within the overture’s dissonant climactic chord, rising inexorably out of the brass to linger in the strings. A bit like the wandering solo melody in Sibelius’ violin concerto (always guaranteed to bring on a NICE BIG CRY), Juliet’s theme seems somehow wrenched out of the spleen and onto the stave – it is unremittingly beautiful and incredibly sad.
If the Royal Ballet Sinfonia sound a little underpowered at first, they soon make up for it with a full-throttle Dance of the Knights, to which MacMillan codifies the principles of repressive Renaissance patriarchy into a processional social dance. The Capulet men, codpieces bulging and scarlet hose a-shining, promenade and point downwards at the women, who decorously bend from the waist or kneel as if bowed under the weight of cumulative male cretinism, yoked to an engorged scrotal sac that seeps toxic masculinity and misery into every facet of Veronese life. Like most places in 2018.
Paul Andrews’ set, made specifically for touring, can’t help but lack the suffocating scope of Nicholas Georgiadis’ designs for the Covent Garden production – over at the Opera House you can almost smell the marketplace brine and BO. Nevertheless, the BRB corps fill the town square with bustling detail and petty, perennial micro-aggravations, while Tyrone Singleton, Max Maslen and Brandon Lawrence as Romeo, Mercutio and Benvolio make a fine leggy trio of Montague lads, limbs scything the air with rapier precision.
Jenna Roberts, soon to leave the company, is a truly poignant Juliet. Over at the Capulet HQ, she’s both gauche and bouncy to begin with, leaping onto her nurse’s lap in the final blithe throes of childhood, but her feet soon start to articulate burgeoning sexual awareness – while her bourees back and forth towards Paris are cautious and curious, she sweeps heedlessly right off balance with Romeo.
The balcony pas de deux is a glorious display of headlong, hormonal passion, danced with rapturous energy by Singleton and Roberts, but I really needed my Kleenex for the crypt scene, when Romeo desperately tries to invoke memories of the early duet with Juliet’s seemingly lifeless body, heaving and hoisting it into lifts and embraces. It’s gruesome and sad and slightly disrespectful. Then there’s the reawakened Juliet’s silent howl of mammalian loss. On second thoughts, the antidote to all this wrenching human trauma is certainly not Cats the musical. That would only bring forth a greater horror – the music of Andrew Lloyd Webber.
Romeo and Juliet was performed at Sadler’s Wells from 12 – 13 June 2018. Click here for more details.