Shaftesbury Theatre, London – until 30 May 2020
What if Juliet didn’t die? And what if the story of reclaiming her life was told through the music of Max Martin, aka the writer and producer of some of the most iconic pop music of the last two decades. Well that’s & Juliet, a wild, sparkling, energetic piece of musical theatre which has burst onto the scene at the Shaftesbury Theatre.
When the cast come in ‘Larger Than Life’ and ‘I Want It That Way’, there’s certainly a moment of unsettled bafflement, but soon the numbers become part of the story and you forget Shakespeare wasn’t really bopping along to 90s pop songs whilst writing his iconic tragedies. That being said, there are times where the songs feel added in for the sake of being added and don’t flow particularly well, but most of the time it doesn’t matter because they are performed with a vigour that engages.
David West Read’s book is smartly self-aware and knows exactly when to hold back and acknowledge the pop-culture craziness that’s occurring. The meta-theatrical plot works well, with us first meeting William Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway as they bicker about the ending of Will’s latest play, Romeo and Juliet.
Anne persuades her husband to let her do a rewrite and from here we are taken to Verona where Juliet begins her journey of self discovery and goes on an adventure to Paris with her besties. Full of puns, panto lines and pageantry, the show does teeter on the edge of being too childish at times but West Read’s book and Martin’s songs marry up well with
Luke Sheppard’s direction to create a musical which doesn’t take itself or its content too seriously.
As the leading lady Miriam-Teak Lee brings sass in spades. Her vocals are mostly strong and she really does embody the confidence that this reimagined Juliet is full of; but whether due to the lack of character writing or limited acting in the pop-concert atmosphere, Juliet is just a bit distant.
I personally didn’t warm to her as a character and whilst I appreciate all this modern lady stands for, there is a distinct lack of sincerity in how she’s written. However, this is not so true when Juliet and her best friend May are together. It’s in these brief moments that compassion flies and we see a more realistic character in front of us. Arun Blair-Mangat is sweet and enticing as May, who discovers love and friendship.
Oliver Tompsett is the boy-band Shakespeare of dreams, who hilariously bigs himself up and brings an instant charm to the stage. As his steely, compassionate and fizzy wife, Cassidy Janson gives a fantastic performance. Her stage presence is magnetic and I found myself wanting a spin-off purely focussed on (the only) Anne Hathaway. Jordan Luke Gage is suitably self-absorbed from the moment of his bombastic entrance and gives a great vocal performance as Romeo.
The ensemble of players are top notch, adding interest and motion throughout. Jocasta Almgill gives a stand out performance and Lady Capulet, with Dillon Scott-Lewis, Grace Mouat and Antoine Murray-Straughan really shining from the ensemble.
The whole show is exemplary of production value and there’s no denying that the energy on stage could power all the theatres on Shaftesbury Avenue. Bill Sherman’s lighting is concert goals; Soutra Gilmour’s set is a dreamland and Andrzej Goulding’s projections bring each scene to life creatively and effectively. The female empowerment, LGBT representation and romantic moments are all enjoyable and important to be seen on stage, but a significant lack of character development means you feel little empathy for the characters and at the end just don’t really care.
This is definitely a show which will be enjoyed after a prosecco or two and it doesn’t try to be anything else than a fun night out. If you want theatrical integrity and a moving storyline then this isn’t for you, but if you want an explicitly queer, feminist musical that’s funny, entertaining and scored by songs that you grew up listening then go see it. If music be the food of love, &Juliet provides a feast that will satisfy anyone looking for a bit of fun.