BWW Review: ROMEO AND JULIET, Royal Opera House
Sir Kenneth MacMillan's Romeo and Juliet has been performed no less than 400 times by the Royal Ballet, and with a lengthy run this season from the end of March to mid June, the popularity of perhaps the most famous love story of all time shows no signs of subsiding.
This run offers a vast selection of principal casting, with many exciting debuts and showings from young and upcoming members of the company - including Anna Rose O'Sullivan with Marcelino Sambé, and Francesca Hayward with Cesar Corrales.
Casting for opening night (and on this viewing on 10 April) saw Lauren Cuthbertson and Matthew Ball take on the lead roles. It's a role Cuthbertson is well versed in delivering. She conveys Juliet's transition from girlish innocence to womanhood with an eloquent tenderness.
Cuthbertson's Juliet markedly matures over the acts. From skittish and excitable, jumping into her nurse's lap, to the heavy responsibility and emotional torture she experiences for defying her family's wishes is shown with experienced clarity. There is a repeated motif in which she bourrees at warp speed away from her hard-faced, would-be suitor Paris, an especially cold Ryoichi Hirano. It's initially done out of shyness and later out of an assured defiance.
Nearly ten years younger than his Juliet, new Principal Ball's approach is more stoic and quietly passionate. He dances with commanding power, brooding intently in the battle scenes whilst remaining strong and intense in the romantic pas de deux. Individually, they each show skill in portraying their character's journey, beautifully executing MacMillan's choreography, but as a partnership the chemistry feels lacking.
Fortunately, the pivotal scene, the moonlit balcony pas de deux, is danced without inhibition despite the questionable chemistry. Both Ball and Cuthbertson move freely, the scene flowing beautifully between the peaks and troughs of dramatic lifts and tight embraces. The youth and spontaneity of the characters is finally evident.
Whether you enjoy this pairing will be whether you like your Romeo and Juliet sweet or steamy. Nonetheless, it's hard not to get swept up in Prokofiev's powerful score, played exquisitely by the Royal Opera House orchestra.
Of course, a production of Romeo and Juliet is more than just the two central characters, and full company scenes of battles and courtly life make up a large portion of the action.
The trio of reappearing harlots are excitable and mischievous, while the Mandolin dance that serves as a bright interlude before a gripping battle scene is lively, enhanced by Marcelino's Sambé's inherent warmth and stage presence. The male group, clad in lime and raspberry tights, dance an exhausting selection of jumps and jetés that require admirable stamina.
There's also exhibitionist antics from the three Montague men. Valentino Zucchetti as Mercutio and James Hay as Benvolio is an enigmatic line-up. Their trio, alongside Ball's Romeo, sneak into the Capulet's party in Act One. They are bright and energetic as well as crisply synchronised.
Designer Nicholas Georgiasis' gothic opulence adds a sombre mood to proceedings, suggestive of the tragedy to come but adding a pleasing sense of drama. Just on occasion the stage feels a little too dingy, however - the Capulet tomb of the final scene is steeped in atmospheric darkness to the extent that it's hard to absorb the action.
As an overall spectacle, MacMillan's Romeo and Juliet is hard to fault; the large ensemble scenes are packed with detail and intrigue that will always benefit from repeat viewing. But your emotional response to the star-crossed lovers will be more subjective - Cuthbertson and Ball's interpretation feels assured but safe.
Romeo and Juliet runs at the Royal Opera House until 11 June
Image Credit: Helen Maybanks