Scottish Ballet’s premiere of Romeo and Juliet

We attended the opening night of Scottish Ballet’s latest production, Romeo and Juliet, on Tuesday night at Edinburgh’s Festival Theatre. It’s hard to go wrong with such a great story outline and Prokifiev’s great score. Ashley Page, artistic director of Scottish Ballet, handed over the choreography of Romeo and Juliet to Krzyzstof Pastor. Overall I found Romeo and Juliet a consistent, but not brilliant, production from Scottish Ballet.

Scottish Ballet's Romeo and Juliet ballet, cover of programme

This production of Romeo and Juliet incessantly emphasises the timeless nature of hatred and strife. Video projection shows footage of World War I soldiers during Act 1 and after Mercutio’s and Tybalt’s deaths in Act 2 further video of more modern day bombing victims is shown. Act 1 is the 1930s, Act 2 the 1950s and Act 3 the 1990s, where the cast wear jeans and t-shirts. Yes, the story of Romeo and Juliet can exist in any era: did we really need this emphasising so much?! I’ve never watched Shakespeare’s play or a pure classical version of Romeo and Juliet, and thought such hatred and familial warfare were a sole product of renaissance Verona.

Romeo and Juliet contained some striking imagery such as the end of Scene 1, where the entire cast lay down on the stage. The beautiful and striking Juliet was left to weave around the bodies. Eventually the cast rolled into the darkness of a back stage exit. Confrontations between the Capulets and Montagues were well choreographed, and were the evening’s most engaging scenes. Of course the final act should have been the most engaging, yet I found the lovers’ tragic scenes lacked emotional impact. The iconic balcony scene failed to enliven the senses as it should. The failure of Romeo and Juliet to engage one’s heart, was the night’s biggest disappointment.

Scottish Ballet’s Romeo and Juliet ended with the Capulets and Montagues picking up the bodies of their loved ones, in preparation for burial. Whether the feuding families made peace and vowed to never fight again, true to Shakespeare’s word, or whether the deaths of Romeo and Juliet failed to end the cycle of violence was a thought to ponder.

This was Scottish Ballet’s second major production within six months, after their excellent Christmas premiere of Sleeping Beauty. Maybe the strains of such a schedule has taken its toll somewhat on the fundamentals of Romeo and Juliet. Scottish Ballet are to be commended for the contemporary twists and fresh visions they are bringing to classical ballet, but with this production in particular it appeared the appeal and brilliance of classical ballet had been diluted. I missed the swordfighting and swashbuckling of the traditional Romeo and Juliet, and found myself questioning the emphasis placed on the timeless nature of such tragedy.

Romeo and Juliet ends its run at Edinburgh’s Festival Theatre on Saturday 17th May 2008. Subsequently it visits Aberdeen, Inverness and ends its run at Scottish Ballet’s Glasgow home.

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