Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Romeo and Juliet was mounted for the company by MacMillan himself shortly before his death in 1992, but differs substantially from the Royal Ballet’s earlier and better known version, particularly in the designs. For the Birmingham company, MacMillan chose a young designer, Paul Andrews, and tasked him with setting the ballet early in the Italian Renaissance.
BRB, MacMillan's Romeo and Juliet
Andrews’ designs, inspired by Renaissance paintings, are sumptuous, running on a rich palette where blood red velvet denotes Juliet’s Capulet family, and a deep blue Romeo’s Montagues. White for the two lovers offers a telling contrast. The sets are dominated by heavy dark stone walls and deep arches with a central staircase, variously framing the action in the busy public square, the Capulets' opulent ballroom, where Romeo and Juliet first meet, and providing the requisite Juliet balcony for the pas de deux where the two declare their love.
Effective as they are, at times these sets appear to crowd the stage, eating away at precious dancing room, which could have been the reason why Tzu-Chao Chou’s boisterous Mercutio inadvertently kicked a wall when turning in arabesque during one of the three friends’ variations; and somebody stepped on the bride’s train in the public square scene in Act II.
That apart, the company – townspeople, ballroom guests, three harlots, wedding entertainers – executed MacMillan’s demanding choreography with gusto and conviction, ensuring the audience felt duly transported to Renaissance Verona, where the story is set.
Ultimately, though, Romeo and Juliet stands or falls on the chemistry between the two leads, and this is where the cast on press night were found lacking. As Juliet Momoko Hirata looked the part: small, slight, vivacious and technically assured, she was a convincing girl on the verge of adulthood, particularly charming when we first saw her playing with her rag doll under the besotted eyes of her nurse (Ruth Brill). Later, she abandoned herself to love with wide-eyed, loose limbed incomprehension at the sheer power of this unknown, overwhelming feeling.
BRB, MacMillan's Romeo and Juliet, dancers César Morales and Momoko Hirata
Yet, something was missing in her characterisation. We were never sure who exactly Hirata’s Juliet was: swept into the drama, she never seemed to drive it.
As Romeo César Morales is tall and elegant, a sure, attentive partner with a solid, yet un-showy technique; but where is the fire, the charisma that would unleash such a powerful passion in young Julliet? Surely a more ardent Romeo, a more forceful actor, would have elicited a better defined character from his partner, as well as a more emotional ride for the audience.
Characterisation is indeed the weakest part of BRB's production. As Tybalt, Rory Mackay is suitably arrogant, but not dastardly enough; nor is he visibly obnoxiously drunk when he provokes Mercutio to the fatal duet in Act II. As Mercutio Tzu-Chao Chou is properly boisterous, and deals well with the histrionics of his prolonged death scene; but again, good dancer that he is, he never fully asserted the character’s reckless impudence.
Elsewhere the mime could be more convincing, but plaudits to Yijing Zhang whose initially haughty Lady Capulet provided a remarkable scene of deranged grief when faced with the body of her nephew (and likely lover) Tybalt.
In short, there are plusses and minuses in BRB's Romeo and Juliet; but on the whole, this is a production worth seeing, an honourable account of one of ballet's landmark creations.
|What||BRB, Romeo and Juliet Review|
|Where||Sadler's Wells, Rosebery Avenue, London, EC1R 4TN | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Angel (underground)|
12 Jun 18 – 13 Jun 18, 19:30 Wed mat 14:00 Dur.: 2 hours 50 minutes incl two intervals
|Price||£12-£45 (Wed mat £12-£35)|
|Website||Click here to book via Sadler's Wells website|