Juliet and Romeo, a new production from Lost Dog theatre, sets out to explore what would happen if Shakespeare’s tragedy hadn’t ended with both the protagonists dying. The overarching message I took from this rich and varied thought experiment is that the original couldn’t have ended any alternative way, because this performance demonstrates how, psychologically, the main characters could never have remained romantic icons.
My favourite parts of the script were the snappy dialogue of the opening scenes, which wittily captured the petty back and forth of a bickering couple. I felt like the modern take on relationships made for the most relatable, engaging elements, although I may have been alone in thinking this as the rest of the audience chortled most heartily at the Shakespeare references.
A palpable sense of the arrested development of the eloped couple came from bizarre, sometimes childish jokes such as when Juliet (Solene Weinachter) acts out the dramatically gory effects on her body that she would have experienced if she had indeed drunk poison, and the most bizarre clothed sex scene I’ve ever witnessed. The movement and use of the space (consisting of a brilliantly versatile set from James Perkins) were utterly mesmerising - perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that, from a dance company, these were the highest quality aspects of the production. At times the routines were positively gravity-defying. However, I personally felt that there was something of a mismatch between the larger-than-life dancing and the characters’ more subdued personalities: particularly Ben Duke’s mumbling, evasive Romeo rather abruptly portraying his younger, sexier, peacocking self in the first number (The Beatles’ I Want You).
It becomes clear that both halves of the couple have become unhinged by the trauma of their youth: the characters attempt to use role play as therapy, which is taken to extremes by Juliet’s insistence on obsessively acting out the climactic scene in the original play. The device of the play within a play was at times confusing, reflecting the confusion of a couple trying to figure out where it all went wrong. I found that this postmodern breaking of the fourth wall was more of a distraction than an embellishment. Additionally the pace with which the darker elements were introduced felt too abrupt, making it difficult to fully believe in the characters. They were convincing as their modern incarnations (particularly Juliet as the put-upon first-time mother) but the references to their younger selves existing in an altogether different universe, while admirably ambitious, didn’t quite achieve what I think it set out to do.
This performance is a great showcase of how bringing together different art forms can help explore classical texts.The modern dialogue and the powerful dance interpretation served to bring the story alive and I noted that younger members of the audience who may have chosen to watch the play as an accompaniment to their study of the original were definitely engrossed. As a standalone piece, it didn’t work for me, but as a fun and diverting means of exploring the themes of the original in a new way, this experimental performance is a great success.