Shaftesbury Theatre, London – until 30 May 2020
This lively and empowering new musical is entertaining from start to finish.
Who would have thought that if you were to put a selection of songs written and co-written by Max Martin plus a 2019 reinterpretation Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet you would end up with something so empowering and entertaining? On paper perhaps it would seem like a crazy idea but in reality there is plenty to be enjoyed thanks to director Luke Sheppard’s production that never takes itself too seriously and David West Read’s book that has plenty of humour but also is completely heartfelt.
& Juliet begins with Shakespeare’s wife Anne arguing that Juliet perhaps deserves a better fate than killing herself because of the death of Romeo. This in turn reluctantly leads Shakespeare to allow Anne to help him write a new version that offers Juliet more choices and control over her life. With many twists and turns along the way, the show explores relationships and individual journeys of development for the central characters.
This is actually where the songs written and co-written by Martin actually really come into their own. In particular, having Juliet’s best friend May singing ‘I’m Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman’ as he struggles with his identity actually allows the audience to hear a song from a new perspective and offers new meaning that is really quite heartfelt. Meanwhile, in contrast to this, a lot of the songs have been adapted for comical use that is really delightful as ‘Oops!…I Did it Again’ in which Juliet unexpectedly finds herself engaged – revealing a show that was never designed to be taken too seriously and plays on this a lot to great effect.
Sheppard’s energetic and delightful production really succeeds in managing to keep the audience consistently engaged. In this he is helped by Soutra Gilmour’s set design and Paloma Young’s costume design which brilliantly combines the historical element of the story with the contemporary ideas that are explored.It is bold, colourful and striking to look at from start to finish.
But there are so many delightful performances to be enjoyed as well. Leading the way is Miriam-Teak Lee as Juliet, who really seems to blossom as the show goes on, capturing her character’s spirit and energy right until the climax of her performance of ‘Roar’ that is a real thrill to listen to.
Elsewhere, Oliver Tompsett as Shakespeare and Cassidy Janson as Anne have a great onstage partnership as each of them battle for control of the story (their rendition of ‘I Want it That Way’ is brilliant) , while David Bedella as Lance and Melanie La Barrie provide one of the funniest sequences in the show while singing to ‘Teenage Dream/Break Free’. It is also lovely to watch the relationship between Arun Blair-Mangat’s May and Tim Mahendran’s Francois develop.
Heartwarming and entertaining, & Juliet is a musical that is perfect for these times. It shows us the importance of acceptance and understanding for others, while encouraging us to find the confidence to be the person we want to be – all told with complete sincerity. Joyful to watch from start to finish.