Juliet and Romeo
Ben Duke and Solene Weinachter
The Lowry, Salford
Ben Duke and Solene Weinachter, who devised and perform Lost Dog’s Juliet and Romeo, tackle one of the great ‘what if’s’ in drama. Instead of Romeo and Juliet dying tragically, the couple escape and, after a car chase, set up house in Paris. However, years later their relationship is in difficulty. Romeo is having trouble in the bedroom while Juliet has become morbidly obsessed with re-enacting the closing scenes of Shakespeare’s play.
Director Ben Duke stages Juliet and Romeo as a therapy session. The house lights stay up for the opening scenes with the audience invited to observe the couple working through their problems. Although presented in a very funny manner, the differences between Romeo and Juliet seem grimly irreconcilable. Ben Duke’s Romeo is reserved and reluctant to express his feeling aloud while Solene Weinachter’s Juliet is more expansive and wonders why the passion has gone out of their relationship.
However, these problems may have been there from the start—for years, Romeo was under the impression Juliet was dressed as a chicken when they met at a fancy dress party; not appreciating it was the more romantic phoenix. Romeo seems embarrassed by, and claims not to remember, his poetic opening speech to his love. Both parties, however, have been concealing guilty secrets.
Following one of the most poetic plays in history is a daunting prospect. Duke and Weinachter move away from verse taking a physical approach to their sequel and staging many scenes in wordless dance form. It is an inspired choice offering both comedic and romantic possibilities. Juliet claims that, overcome by grief upon discovering her comatose body, Romeo lifted and danced with her around the tomb. Romeo gamely tries to enact the fantasy even through the result is ungainly and comically awkward rather than romantic. Yet when the couple share their first night together in Paris, their wordless passion is so powerful the results look like animals fighting.
The dance scenes are set to an excellent soundtrack of pop and classical music including the obvious march from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet. Duke and Weinachter do not cheat; they support speculations about the relationship between Romeo and Juliet by references to the original play including an argument in which Juliet reminds her husband that he murdered her cousin.
Perhaps recognising no author could achieve Shakespeare’s blend of romance and tragedy, Duke and Weinachter take a more down to earth approach. The theme of the play is the balance between idealised romance and mundane reality. It might be impossible for Romeo and Juliet to maintain the passion of their initial courtship but the problems they encounter are those familiar to any couple who marry young and in haste.
During their first conversation as a married couple, Romeo and Juliet have to acknowledge they have little in common—neither can cook, one is vegan and they have different musical tastes. The bittersweet pathos of the couple coming to terms with the realisation they cannot live up to their own legend is heartbreakingly beautiful.
Juliet and Romeo is a gem of a play—very funny but with an underlying tone of regret. It is certainly enough to make one hope Lost Dog might speculate what would have happened if Hamlet hadn’t been such a moody bugger.