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  • Writer's pictureFrances

Matthew Bourne's Romeo and Juliet Review | The Lowry | Manchester

The incarcerated youth of tomorrow are feeling all the feels at the Verona Institute where they have been deserted by their guardians to bubble over with emotion in a facility designed to suppress their personality. At the Lowry theatre Matthew Bourne’s reimagining of Romeo and Juliet plays with corruption and control, pinning its cast in all white uniforms against a milky set drained of colour. The refreshed narrative addressed issues surrounding mental health, set in an ambiguous future that exchanges Shakespeare’s family rivalries for youths trapped by circumstances beyond their control and surrounded by abuse.

Living within Shakespeare’s world, Bourne reshapes the story around Prokofiev’s 1935 score, accentuating the overflowing passion of the love-struck couple. Performed live by the New Adventures Orchestra and conducted by Brett Morris, the revised score magnifies the pent-up energy of its ensemble cast while crafting a new identity of the classic narrative. With a set designed by Lex Brotherston, the story plays out a two-tiered gated community which houses men and women in separate spaces. The entire structure of the institute is set up in a way that invites abuse, with an unchecked guard representing Tybalt (Dan Wright) degrading Juliet while controlling every aspect of the teen's life.

While the simplistic, multifunctional set mirrors everything from the teen's cells, to a dance floor and fighting arena, the playful nature of its young cast sees the youth rebel in any way they can. Their personalities shine through the clear set, with exhaustive choreography from the abundance of young talent spilling out onto the stage in support of each other. Inventive sequences that flip the limited resources and space extend the impact of the ensemble as the group feed off each other, frequently moving in packs and pairs. The emotive Juliet (Cordelia Braithwaithe) is given more agency over her life, leading the story, at the forefront of the action and defending herself against the advances of Tybolt. Despite being placed against a downtrodden Romeo (Paris Fitzpatrick) who appears riddled with self-doubt after being deserted by his political parents Senator and Mrs Montague, the essence of youth flows through their duets, including intense choreography that reanimates the classic characters with passionate performances. With the men and women kept apart, the moments between the two lovers bring striking duets and solos, where their quiet scenes of unity are reflected in a darkened set.

Three years since the release of his last production, Red Shoes, the unexpected remodel of Romeo and Juliet shapes New Adventures back onto the themes of love in a suppressed space. Dripping in similar themes of separation and the perilous consequences of love, Romeo and Juliet’s new dynamic brings one of the most minimal New Adventures productions to the stage. In finding a way to survive the abuse, Romeo and Juliet grasp onto a sense of community, allowing the ensemble cast to shape many of the couple's connections. The production skilfully plucks the classic moments of the story with a fresh perspective that amalgamates significant acts to see the teens as a collection. Fusing what audience know of the story with moments of uncertainty, Bourne’s beautiful reimagining of Romeo and Juliet bursts with passion but strips back details for audiences to build on their own conclusions.

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