Matthew Bourne’s Romeo and Juliet

Sep 20 2023 | By More

★★★★☆     Radical and inventive

Festival Theatre: Tue 19 – Sat 23 Sept 2023
Review by Suzanne O’Brien

Matthew Bourne’s radical reinterpretation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet for his New Adventures company, creates a ballet about the powerless and the powerful which highlights the madness of young love and the crazy things it forces us to do.

The ballet, which is at the Festival Theatre all week and tours to the King’s Theatre Glasgow next, is set inside of the Verona Institute, in which Romeo (Rory Macleod) and Juliet (Cordelia Braithwaite) are inmates, the story retains some of Shakespeare’s original plot and characters. However, it is set in a new time, a new location and features different roles.

A scene from Matthew Bourne’s Romeo and Juliet. Pic: Johan Persson

The main difference from Shakespeare’s text is that what is keeping the young lovers apart is the heavily controlled institution rather than their feuding families.

The reason for everyone’s placement in the Institute is not obvious, but it is clear is that this is a place where young adults are restricted from being their true selves. The way they are heavily controlled immediately comes through the opening ensemble number that features regimented and almost military like choreography.


They are forced to exercise, attend classes, and take medicine – much of which is done in unison. Bourne’s choreography with chairs here is impressive as they not only make up the set, they are also used to punctate points in the musical score.

Although Prokofiev’s score is not performed live, Terry Davie’s recordings are dramatic, ominous and build suspense throughout.

A scene from Matthew Bourne’s Romeo and Juliet. Pic: Johan Persson

It is clear that any sexual desire or contact is forbidden in the institute but when the inmates are given the opportunity to let loose at a ball organised by Reverend Bernadette Laurence (Daisy May Kemp), they are quick to take the chance. As the lights dim on Lez Brotherston’s cold and clinical set, they get down and dirty.

The ball is also the first time Romeo and Juliet meet and their sweet attraction and chemistry is palpable.


The lovers later meet privately, without the prying eyes of onlookers. These duets are simply stunning. Beautifully choreographed, the whirlwind romance is shown with a youthful and excitable feel. In their first duet there is an inventive section in which they never lose contact.

A scene from Matthew Bourne’s Romeo and Juliet. Pic: Johan Persson

There is an ease to the way Braithwaite and Macleod intertwine their bodies and roll across the stage; it lies in the lightness of their movements and the tenderness of their touch. That tenderness is an element which is sustained throughout, even as their desperation and passion increases.

Naivety is less evident in Braithwaite’s incredibly poised Juliet in comparison to Macleod’s completely innocent Romeo. This is partly due to her encounters with Tybalt (Danny Reubens), which we know on one occasion involved him brutally stripping her of her virginity.


Reubens, as the sleazy, controlling and manipulative prison guard, Tybalt, has a stage presence like no other. The fear he instils in the inmates is strongly felt by the audience and the way he abuses his power to get to Juliet creates some of the hardest parts of the ballet to watch. The relationship haunts Juliet and ultimately has catastrophic consequences.

A scene from Matthew Bourne’s Romeo and Juliet. Pic: Johan Persson

Young people are at the heart of the piece, and it is important to note that the cast features a lot of new talent, with nine dancers making their professional debut. Young people’s involvement in the creative process, behind the scenes and in the final piece, makes it feel youthful, fresh and true.

Bourne’s choreography conveys such deep emotion and tells the story so beautifully that he once again shows that words are not always needed – even if they are written by the world’s most famous playwright.

Running time 2 hours (including one interval)
Festival Theatre
, 13/29 Nicolson Street EH8 9FT.
Tuesday 19 – Saturday 23 Sept 2023
Evenings: 7.30pm; Matinees Thurs, Sat: 2.30pm.
Tickets and details: Book here.

Glasgow King’s Theatre, 297 Bath St, Glasgow G2 4JN
Tuesday 26 – Saturday 30 October 2023
Evenings: 7.30pm; Thurs, Sat: 2.30pm.
Tickets and details: Book here.

A scene from Matthew Bourne’s Romeo and Juliet. Pic: Johan Persson


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