Saturday, 7 November 2015

'Romeo & Juliet' at the Royal Opera House

I've been to the ballet a few times and enjoyed it but I've never seen a full length, tradional ballet so last night was the chance put that right when we went to see 'Romeo & Juliet' at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden. It's always exciting to go into the plush Royal Opera House and this is the Royal Ballet's 50th anniversary production of the Kenneth Macmillan interpretation of the Shakespeare play. It was wonderful to see - why didn't I see this 30 years ago? It's danced to Prokofiev's marvellous score with some wonderful themes swirling round the theatre, drifting off only to reappear again later. A colourful production full of dashing movement set to that music and with a classic story, what more could you want?

It opens in the busy market-place of Verona with our hero, Romeo, being a Jack-the-lad with the local girls and, when his friends arrive, start taunting the enemy house of Capulet. This results in a full-on battle with sword-fencers darting here and there across the stage including a great synchronised sword-fencing section where they were all in time with each other. It was all terribly energetic and skilfully done, I was most impressed! The Montague's in white tights and Capulet's in red tights so it was easy to see who was who. You could easily hear those swords clashing and scraping - this was realistic stuff.

It's a while before we meet Juliet but the dancing makes it plain that she is a young girl with her bouncing around the stage and into her nurse's lap - she's 13 after all. Her parents have lined her up to marry and introduce her to 'society' at a ball in her honour at which the Montague lads sneak in and Romeo is smitten. Hard. They dance. And fall in love. When they sneak off to a church to marry I couldn't help but think, 'That's it, you've sealed your fates now…'. They were lovely together, dancing the dawning of their love, expressing their feelings and their need to be one. It was delightful.

Of course, we all know it goes wrong with Juliet faking suicide to avoid another marriage, Romeo believing she's dead and taking his own life just as Juliet wakes up. Such a cruel ending that ramps up the tension. So sad.

This was a great production and I'm so pleased I saw it. It struck me in the first half that I should have seen this 30 years ago and then I would've seen so many great productions over those 30 years rather than seeing it for the first time now.  If only. Telling the story through dance worked so well and it was easy to follow and get wound up in the tale of love and sadness. Some of the dances were particularly touching like when Romeo and Juliet dance after waking up on the morning after their first (and only) night together. Their love is so strong but Romeo must leave, a very tender scene.

It was nice to meet a range of characters who aren't in the play but who add some fun and another angle to the ballet, such as the Happy Strumpets as I named them ('Three Harlots' in the cast list but I prefer strumpets, thank you). They were great fun and fearless and everyone should know a strumpet. I'm pleased that Romeo knew the Happy Strumpets.

Our Juliet was Iana Salenko and Romeo was Steven McRae, a joyous coupling. Alexander Campbell was Mercutio and Thomas Whitehead was Tybalt, the warring enemies that set Romeo on the track to killing Tybalt. It's all so sad and so unnecessary. They were all great, energetic dancing and acting, the cockiness of the lads, making it all come alive in front of us. The set, the costumes, the lighting all came together to provide a very special experience - I loved it.

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