Romeo and Juliet, Sadler’s Wells, London, review: Plenty of gusto

Zoë Anderson
Birmingham Royal Ballet's 'Romeo and Juliet': Birmingham Royal Ballet

★★★

Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Romeo and Juliet has plenty of gusto in most of the right places. A vigorous company performance brings the feuding Capulets and Montagues to life, while Momoko Hirata’s Juliet goes from giddiness to bleak despair.

There could be more spark with César Morales’ Romeo, but this is a warm account of Kenneth MacMillan’s passionate production.

Created in 1965, MacMillan’s is perhaps the world’s most popular Romeo ballet, matching Prokofiev’s surging score with urgent storytelling and sensuous pas de deux. In 1992, creating a touring version of his monumental Covent Garden production, he turned to the 22-year-old artist Paul Andrews. Andrews’ lighter designs have a sunwarmed richness, with costumes in dappled pinks and blues and delicate frescos evoking Renaissance palaces.

Hirata is a girlish Juliet who has to grow up fast. After falling for Romeo in the ballroom scene, she rushes back to her nurse to talk it over – then is caught between giggles and wonder when she realises he’s right behind her. A small dancer with an expansive flow of movement, she soars through the swoops and abandon of MacMillan’s ardent balcony scene.

César Morales, her Romeo, partners strongly, but needs more definite personality. He’s poised and lyrical, but not positive enough for the full-blooded story unfolding around him. He’s best in quiet moments, as when waking before Juliet after their wedding night.

Confronting her family, Hirata has a desolate sense of what she’s up against, with sudden moments of panic. In the tomb scene, she comes to her decision with moving, headlong speed. Stabbing herself, she’s just out of reach of Romeo when she dies.

Tzu-Chao Chou is a virtuoso Mercutio, giving his technique a mocking edge. The tilts and dips of his ballroom solo read as scornful, as do the fast click-click rhythms of his swordplay in the marketplace brawls. Brandon Lawrence is a charismatic Benvolio, always up for a fight or a joke.

MacMillan pads out the crowd scenes with three Harlots, boldly danced by Céline Gittens, Yvette Knight and Maureya Lebowtiz – I loved Gittens wiping her mouth after spitting on the corpse of Rory Mackay’s aggressive Tybalt.

There are good performances in smaller roles, too. Finding Juliet apparently dead on her wedding morning, her group of friends go from elegant young ladies to scared teenaged girls: nobody wants to be the first to say what’s wrong.


Until 16 June, and on tour (brb.org.uk)