Rasta Thomas' Romeo and Juliet

To the world-weary theatre goer it can seem like there is always another new production of Romeo and Juliet being performed somewhere, somehow. The gimmick of Rasta Thomas’ Romeo and Juliet is the inclusion of modern music by the likes of Katy Perry and Lady Gaga, blending classical with contemporary to create something a 21st century audience can relate to.

There is a time and a place for Katy Perry; sandwiched between two Vivaldi pieces in a tragic tale of young love gone too soon is not one of them. Lyrics like “you think I’m pretty without any make-up on” make Juliet’s feelings seem vapid and insignificant when they should be anything but.

However the trouble with rebooting a classic is that it then has to follow through on its promise and meet the high expectations of an audience already well-versed in the original. Despite having its heart in the right place, this production doesn’t quite manage it and I left the theatre with the over-riding feeling that actually, I could have happily lived my whole life without ever seeing Romeo attempt to Dougie.

The dancing is good with some strong contemporary choreography and well executed ballet. However the production falters slightly on the hip hop numbers – the sudden change of pace from the soaring violins of Vivaldi to LMFAO is an awkward transition which is reflected in the less-confident dancing. The cast jump high, turn fast and leap like their lives depend on it but somehow it all just feels a bit superficial, like they know that something isn’t quite clicking so they’re going to work harder and smile brighter to make up for it.

It’s a very American production in the sense that they clearly want to get the audience involved, coming to the front of the stage and waving their hands in the air more than once during the show. I got the feeling they were trying to recreate the atmosphere of other shows that have used modern soundtracks like We Will Rock You (RIP) or Mama Mia. And therein lies the main issue with this version of Romeo and Juliet; the subject matter doesn’t match the tone of the production. Imagine Mama Mia with less beaches and half the cast dead by the end of the show – how many people would be up and dancing as the curtain fell?

In the same vein the addition of contemporary songs to a classical soundtrack jars horribly with the timeless beauty of the story and adds absolutely nothing to the performance. There is a time and a place for Katy Perry; sandwiched between two Vivaldi pieces in a tragic tale of young love gone too soon is not one of them. Lyrics like “you think I’m pretty without any make-up on” make Juliet’s feelings seem vapid and insignificant when they should be anything but.

Part of this is down to the songs used. They have played it so safe it’s vaguely insulting and gone for the most obvious of choices regardless of how they will fit in with fluidity of the performance. Romeo and his buds are out having fun - Forever Young by Jay-Z. Juliet is in love with Romeo – Teenage Dream by Katy Perry. Mercutio is being camp and vivacious – Express Yourself by Charles Wright. Paris is proposing to Juliet – Nothing On You by Bruno Mars. It feels overly simplistic and somewhat crude to reduce such beautiful, complex writing to auto-tuned corporate schmaltz, especially on the occasions when the addition is completely unnecessary and is included at the expense of cohesive storytelling.

Perhaps the best way to approach Rasta Thomas’ Romeo and Juliet is to sever it completely from its original source material. This is not Shakespeare’s epic tragedy of forbidden love retold through the medium of dance; it is Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 film with more ballet and a worse soundtrack. However what worked in the film sadly hasn’t made the jump across to the stage and inviting Party Rock to the house tonight does nothing but undermine the dignity of the two Households already present. A gimmick too far. 

Reviews by Jules Sanderson

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The Blurb

This contemporary interpretation of Shakespeare’s enduring romantic tragedy is set to become a signature production for dance lovers.

Set against a backdrop of state of the art architectural light design and big screen video projections that will take you from the 1600s to the present, the tragic teenage love story is retold by Rasta Thomas’ extraordinary dancers. This intoxicating cocktail of dance from ballet to hip hop to acrobatics fused with a radical mix of music from Vivaldi and Prokofiev to Jay Z, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry and David Guetta, will take your breath away.

Creators of the dance sensation Rock the Ballet, Choreographer Adrienne Canterna and Artistic Director Rasta Thomas, have used their innovative style to tell the timeless tale of star crossed lovers. This new genre of dance combines a heady mix of audio visual elements and weaves a dance tapestry that is emotionally charged and technically evolved to create a sensual, moving and passionate production that will enthral audiences.

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