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BWW Review: ROMEO AND JULIET, Royal Opera House


Francesca Hayward brings her crossover star quality to open the Royal Ballet's Autumn Season

BWW Review: ROMEO AND JULIET, Royal Opera House

BWW Review: ROMEO AND JULIET, Royal Opera House It's probably indicative of the balance between this ballet's constituent elements that it feels so Russian, because much of it, of course, is not. There's the setting in Verona, the Shakespearean source material, the British choreographer, the multinational cast - but Prokofiev's music so dominates the evening that "Russian" is the flavour of this universal tale. And that's no bad thing, as few can do tragedy on the grand scale like Russians.

Superstar ballerina, Francesca Hayward is our Juliet - a will-o'-the-wisp figure who, prompted by her nurse (Romany Pajdak, loving and funny), puts away her childish things and embraces her womanhood, headstrong, sensual and brutal. She does not so much command the stage as command our eye, finding grace in movement while knowing what she wants and how to get it.

Her partner on-stage (and off-stage), Cesar Corrales, gives us a starstruck lover, transfixed by his first sight of Juliet, the yobbish lad suddenly turned tender and driven by love - but not so much that he's above a murder or two of course. Violence pervades this society, the authority of the Prince of Verona too weak to deal with the enmity between the Houses of Capulet and Montague, both of whom consider themselves above the law (if the law is a thing at all).

And what spectacular form their animosity takes: mass sword-fighting, with clanging steel and real aggression; a bitten thumb or two flicked out; and the ever-present crackle of a potential rumble hanging in the air. There's also sex to go with the violence in the marketplace, Mayara Magri, Olivia Cowley and Meaghan Grace Hinkis a-flirting and a-fornicating with the boys out for a good time and with coin to pay for it.

This is a ballet that requires real acting on a vast stage and none impress more than Matthew Ball, preening and proud as Tybalt, and Marcelino Sambé, cocksure and charismatic as Mercutio, his bold movement and mortal comeuppance recognised by the loudest of applause at the curtain. It's the creation of such real and distinct individuals (Tomas Mock is a beautifully judged third wheel as rejected suitor Paris) that enhances the power of the big set pieces, giving context and meaning to the dazzlingly staged ball at the Capulets' house when Romeo first tumbles for Juliet.

Where Shakespeare's words would be, we have the music, the Orchestra of Royal Opera House in tremendous form under the baton of Koen Kessels, the score, as it should, telling half the story, underlining the psychological states of the characters and moving the tone from light to shade as the plot develops. It hardly needs the icons in Friar Laurence's chapel to remind us of its origin.

A much loved, 56 year-old production of Romeo and Juliet may not be the most original choice to get the Royal Ballet back on its feet after the lockdown, but why quibble about a crowdpleaser when we're just happy to have the crowds?

Romeo and Juliet is at the Royal Opera House until 25 February

Photo Helen Maybanks / ROH

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