Romeo and Juliet

Sergei Prokofiev, choreography by Kenneth Macmillan
Birmingham Royal Ballet
The Lyric, Theatre Royal Plymouth

Gus Payne and Valentin Olovyannikov as Mercutio and Tybalt

Kenneth MacMillan’s take on Sergei Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet is a classic. And every time it is seen, offers up more delights as asides and background vignettes are noted and the underlying humour and poignancy observed.

MacMillan’s storytelling is emotive and full of character while absorbing the soaring score for a mesmerising experience. The plethora of male showcase pieces are an absolute joy.

Master of the grand jeté, Yasuo Atsuji is an elegant but exuberant Romeo switching between high-spirited fun with his mates and doleful lovelorn adolescent. He executes the notoriously tough virtuoso role with consummate ease, seemingly hovering mid-air, and his pas de deux with the exquisite Miki Mizutani are heart-stoppingly beautiful—or harrowing as that with her lifeless body.

Valentin Olovyannikov has long made the brooding, belligerent Tybalt a master study eliciting boos and hisses at the curtain call while Gus Payne embodies the cheeky chappie and high jinks galore of Mercutio, up for the danger of gate-crashing a party, consorting with harlots and even bringing humour to that awfully long drawn-out death

Mizutani as Juliet takes us on a journey of burgeoning womanhood—from doll to lover in a swift awakening, her pointwork tremendous (particularly the tiny bourrées as she shyly slips from Paris’s hopeful grasp) and her fluidity captivating.

Laura Day shows off her acting skills as the loyal Nurse while BRB stalwarts Jonathan Payn and Rory Mackay add gravitas as Lord Capulet and Escalus.

Paul Andrew’s set is Gothic: stark vault and chapel or sumptuous hangings, sweeping staircase and towering pillars with atmospheric lighting design by John B Read. Costuming is lavish and luxurious with the warring Capulets in shades of ochre and red while the Montagues contrast with blues, gold and white predominant (although I, even now, still find those flesh-coloured tights somewhat disturbing).

Under Philip Ellis’s baton, the Royal Ballet Sinfonia pours emotion into the leitmotif-laden score contrasting the lyricism with discordance, interplaying seamlessly with unfolding story stirring with the "Dance of the Knights" and, noticed for the first time, some echoes of Peter and the Wolf.

Mummers and harlots, lords and ladies, young bloods, feuding, masked ball, love, life, death and sensational sword swashbuckling—it’s all there. Not to be missed.

Reviewer: Karen Bussell