ROMEO AND JULIET – Peacock Theatre, London.
Romeo and Juliet is a universal love story that has been re-told and re-imagined many times since it was first performed in the 16th Century. In modern culture perhaps two of the most popular adaptations are the 1957 dance drama West Side Story and Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 movie starring Leonardo Di Caprio and Claire Danes. Now, at the Peacock Theatre, can be found a hybrid of these two versions in the form of a pop ballet presented by Rasta Thomas and his company Bad Boys of Dance.
The production is resolutely aimed at a younger audience: ostensibly a demographic that might find the combination of ballet and Shakespeare a bit naff. Everything is done to make the show seem ‘cool’: pumping classical music is combined with popular hits by Katy Perry, LMFAO and Jay-Z. Roland Greil’s lighting puts one in mind of a gig rather than a formal theatre production. The set is created by projections designed by Joshua Hardy and the dancers maintain a determined swagger throughout proceedings.
The plot is boiled down to its bare essentials and the production benefits from a total concentration on the Romeo – Juliet – Paris love triangle. It is massively simplified, but actually all the better for it. The story telling seems immediate and accessible and leaves nothing for an audience to be intimidated by.
Adrienne Canterna’s choreography is inventive and playful, matching the tone of the production beautifully. There are some particular stand out moments such as the boys dancing to Jay-Z’s ‘Forever Young’, Juliet’s exuberant dance to Katy Perry’s ‘Teenage Dream’ and a simply stunning pas de deux for the eponymous couple to ‘Adagio For Strings’ by Samuel Barber. The choreography is helped by some particularly intelligent musical choices; although the mix of classical and pop is not greatly satisfying in terms of a smooth flow in performance.
The company of dancers is small, which helps the story remain focussed and leaves no one out in the cold, in terms of a ‘big moment’. Canterna, who also plays Juliet, performed her choreography as naturally as would be expected; she also brought Preston Swovelin’s Romeo to life. Swovelin got sadly lost in the crowd when performing without her; with a strong, assured Tybalt in Ryan Carlson and confident support from Lloyd Boyd and Samuel Quinn as fellow Capulets it’s not difficult to see why. Eric Lehn’s Paris and Jace Zeimantz’s Friar were also brought to the fore through strong characterisation, which these roles can often lack even in the play. Only the Nurse played by Jourdan Epstein seemed ultimately underwhelming. The Nurse is a pivotal character in guiding the audience emotionally through the story and many tender and comedic moments were missed, despite an energetic performance.
The performance was well received, and the motivating idea behind Rasta Thomas’ Romeo and Juliet has clearly been handled with care and attention. Unfortunately, the company are let down by a cheap looking production that feels more reminiscent of a school show than a presentation in Central London. Scenes lurch from one to another with awkward black outs, music fade outs and swathes of empty space with nothing happening. If this side of things was looked at as carefully, as the intricacies of the choreography have been, Rasta Thomas’ Romeo and Juliet could be a serious contender for a hot ticket in town.
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By Robert Pearce
3rd – 29th March
Peacock Theatre, London, WC2.