Stunning re-imagining of Shakespeare classic

Matthew Bourne's Romeo and Juliet, Sheffield Lyceum
Romeo and Juliet at Sheffield Lyceum (photo: Johan Persson)Romeo and Juliet at Sheffield Lyceum (photo: Johan Persson)
Romeo and Juliet at Sheffield Lyceum (photo: Johan Persson)

Gone are our familiar star-crossed lovers – instead here they find love locked up in The Verona Institute, a prison, psychiatric hospital, reform school all rolled into one.

The young ones are taking on the system in a kind of dystopic correction penitentiary for subversive behaviour.

Matthew Bourne rightly lets Prokofiev's score – brilliantly rearranged and cut back by Terence Davies – do the talking in place of Shakespeare's revered text, matched by a fabulous set and costumes by Lez Brotherston, lighting by Paule Constanle and sound by Paul Groothuis.

An added dimension to Bourne's wonderful choreography is the reflection of the dancers seen on a wall of shiny white tiles, which also create a delightful ‘balcony’ scene within the bounds of the forbidding institution.

Powerful, lyrical, funny and touchingly gentle, Bourne creates dynamic dance sequences that brought to mind West Side Story.

Classic characters remain, some are altered or changed completely to focus on young people or diversity, including a positive transgender role.

So Tybalt (played with tortured effectiveness by Danny Reubens) is one of the guards and Friar Laurence is now the Reverend Bernadette (the talented Cordelia Braithwaite in one of her multiple roles) as a kindly chaplain. Romeo's friends Mercutio (the excellent Ben Brown) and Benvolio (nicely played by Euan Garrett) are turned into a trio by Balthasar (the striking Jackson Fisch), Mercutio's boyfriend.

Meanwhile Juliet's suitor in the play, Paris, switches sex to become her friend "Frenchie."

The whole cast are superb.

Youthful love and sexuality are beautifully captured by Monique Jonas's delightful Juliet and Paris Fitzpatrick's tender but tough Romeo.

Together they playfully roll across the floor rapt in ecstasy.

Bourne creates great ensemble pieces, where each character shares equal billing.

And serious issues – mental health, bullying, hate crimes – are met head on, particularly Juliet's harrowing rape, while also adding a political side with Romeo's parents, Senator and Mrs Montague, seen paying for their son's treatment.

A gutsy, lusty, charming, compelling production that contains the spirit of Shakespeare and the excitement of the new, young generation.

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