This electrifying rewrite of Romeo and Juliet has more hits than you can shake a spear at – ★★★★★
In many ways, & Juliet is a mix-and-match musical. A centuries-old love story meets top producer Max Martin’s modern pop. Predictable plot points crossover with unexpected twists. Its contradictions would normally come across as weak, clumsy and confusing, but in this case, it works wonders. When Martin’s polished music collides with David West Read’s hilarious, farcical and borderline pantomime story, the contrast creates a fun and energetic show which doesn’t take itself seriously.
So stripped-back is most of the musical that when a jolt of energy or witty one-liner bursts through, it is startling. What’s equally impressive is the clever and seamless insertion of several pop numbers into the narrative, in a way which doesn’t feel shoe-horned or come across as needless padding. When William Shakespeare (Oliver Tompsett) is insistent that both the star-crossed lovers die at the end of his play, his fiercely confident wife Anne (Cassidy Janson) manages to wrestle the quill from him in a battle of creative differences – brilliantly soundtracked by I Want It That Way. The outcome of this argument leads to a brand new take on Juliet’s story: what if her end of was actually her new beginning?
Hamilton‘s Miriam-Teak Lee is the powerhouse performer in the leading role, introducing herself as a protagonist who doesn’t know her own story with a phenomenal rendition of a Britney classic. She’s joined on a journey to France by her Nurse (Melanie La Barrie) and best friend May (Arun Blair-Magnat), as two other members of what is a shining cast.
They say critics should review shows without any pre-conceptions – however unavoidable that may be. Yet what is incredible about & Juliet is its ability to constantly surprise us, and to challenge expectations. It was only after seeing the show that I realised the number Confident, sung between Juliet and love interest Francois (Tim Mahendran) is actually a Demi Lovato track rather than an exclusive original. Meanwhile, the social convention of not singing along is smashed, or at the very least, almost impossible.
Add in a towering and glowing neon backdrop from Soutra Gilmour and & Juliet produces a buzz in more ways than one.
& Juliet is now playing at the Shaftesbury Theatre until 30 May 2020.
Production Images: Johan Persson.
Disclaimer: I was invited to watch & Juliet for free in exchange for a review of the performance as a member of the press. I did not receive payment for this review and all opinions stated are honest and my own.