Written by: Vicky Bullen, CEO
As I write this and relive the experience that was Matthew Bourne’s ballet Romeo and Juliet at Sadler’s Wells in London a couple of weeks ago my heart is beating harder.
Shakespeare’s play has been adapted by Mathew Bourne – and while at its core there is still the story of two young lovers the Bourne version is darker, more disturbing and even more poignant.
Set in the Verona Institute – a cross between an asylum and a young offenders’ facility – it tells the story of Juliet, a troubled young woman abused by Tybalt (one of the guards) and Romeo, a boy abandoned to the institute by his politically ambitious parents.
As the story plays out, we see a bunch of youngsters restrained against their will, abused, drugged, disciplined, desperate. The only light and humanity come from the Institute’s chaplain and from the ‘inmates’ themselves who in all the darkness find moments of playfulness and flirtatiousness, who support each other and who try to beat the system where they can.
And of course, there is death – not least the double death of the two young lovers at the end.
So, with all that darkness why did I love it?
The dancers were sublime – the strength of their bodies, the expressiveness packed into the smallest of movements, their grace, their energy, their ability to tell a story with no words.
The music filled me with emotion, with the familiar themes of Prokofiev’s score manipulating my senses and supporting the storytelling.
The set was incredible – simple, stark, all white, it used all the space of the stage with staircases and ‘exits’ – the dancers danced ‘with’ the set, up and down it, through it and around it.
The theme of white carried through into the costumes (with the notable exception of Tybalt the abuser who wore black). White the color of light and innocence in a world of darkness and evil. And then the white was stained with red – the blood of Juliet, spilling all over Romeo as they danced in the throes of death – a visual shock that matched the emotional shock of the violent ending.
It was enthralling, terrifying, disturbing, beautiful, all consuming. An immersive experience that on a hot summer’s evening transported me to a different world, and kept me awake with the tension it had built in me. And such was its power that even today it makes my heart beat harder.