Romeo and Juliet – 2008

August 27, 2008 at 7:18 am | Posted in Ballet Review, Show Review | Leave a comment
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I was originally not going to see this ballet, a trial viewing of a DVD recording of a more classic version, resulted in a decision not to go. But I at the end of the show I was glad I went.

Aug 24, 2008 by Show_Hanger

This ballet was originally choreographed by Christopher Hampson in 2003 for the Royal New Zealand Ballet’s 50th Anniversary. The setting and costumes are not the classic 17th century setting; instead the setting is more contemporary – post 19th century. Hampson has recast the story somewhat and given it some deeper nuances. The work is one that one might have expected from Matthew Bourne – with the greatest repect to both choreographers; it is a throroughly modern ballet.

The Capulets and Montagues have been cast onto two sides of a class divide. The Capulets are shown in wealthy circumstances – all be it with some serious street muscle on-call. The Montagues are hardly shown at all; they may have money, but Romeo (Qi Huan) seems to have the run of the streets – maybe he just feels more comfortable away from the more confining surrounds of his unseen family. The clash between the Caplulets and the Montagues is subtly subverted into a clash between the free spirits of the streets and the constricted family setting of honour and duty.

Tybalt is portrayed brilliantly, by Paul Mathews, as an angry young man consumed by the need to protect his family honor. As such he is very much the force driving the conflict, and is the catalyst of much of the violence. He was the one who supplied the forboding menace on the streets and at the Capulet family ball. So it comes a bit of a surprise to see him killed by Romeo.

Romeo and his two companions (Mercutio and Benvolio) come across as a set of self absorbed young men looking for diversion and some fun mischief – fairly harmless and annoying. Baiting Tybalt and his street heavies; siding with the people who can’t really stand up to them, seems like a bit of heroic fun, that eventually leads to Mercutio’s accidental slaying.

Romeo is not really interested in revenge, but Tybalt drives him into a frenzy and he is killed.

Juliet (Katie Hurst-Saxon) has the hardest role: she is still young, but expected to take on some of the duties of an adult – her family expect her to marry Paris, perhaps to cement a wider family alliance; she is loyal to her family; she marries against her family’s wishes – in secret; Romeo kills Tybalt – her older cousin, and a favourite; she loves Romeo, on and on and on. Juliet and her two friends are the innocents in this story. They have a nurse (Turid Revfeim) who’s job is to look after and protect them. Nurse is probably the one human figure in the household. Juliet’s parents seem to be duty bound figures.

Juliet is ultimately torn by duty and love, and seeks a third way out – she will fake her suicide. And so the young lovers kill themselves due to that fateful mis-delivered message. (Surely, a phone company or courir company will us this as the basis for an advertisement – ‘use X when that message has to get there on time’!)

Hampson injects a new sub-plot: Lady Capulet and Tybalt are secretly lovers! Here we see a facet of the adult world that Juliet tragically never discovers. Juliet’s own mother shows that duty can be worn like a suit of clothes – put on in public and taken off in private. Juliet should have married Paris and met very discretely with Romeo!

Hampson cleverly puts Juliet and her friends on point, and no one else, to emphasize their innocent nature.

Sir Jon Trimmer (Friar Lawrence) and Turid Revfeim turn in wonderful performances to give their characters some depth. Gary Harris and Greg Horsman even put charming cameo roles – as monks. Jo Funaki got the biggest round of applause – for his portrayal of the mischevious Mercutio – during the curtain call.

Tracy Grant Lord’s set was clever and created the right atmosphere – well up to meeting the challenge of creating: street scenes, a grand ball, Juliet’s bedroom, a church, and a tomb. A stair case does wonderful quadruple duty. Verona must be truly a magical place because it was just massive.

Christopher Hampson’s Romeo and Juliet is accessible, without being shallow.

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My only disappointment was that I did not get to see Amy Hollingsworth and Cameron McMillan dance in the lead roles. So much of the production publicity had been crafted around them. Given my DVD fueled misgivings of Romeo and Juliet, I went because I wanted to see them dance.

I went on the last night of the season, so if you missed it, catch it in 3-4 years when it comes around again.

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