Romeo and Juliet Festival Theatre

I confess to having a problem with Northern Ballet’s new production of Romeo and Juliet. Call me an old traditionalist if you will (and I have little room to argue the point) but I labour under the impression that the play is about, well, the two named characters.

But Jean-Christophe Maillot has taken Friar Lawrence and placed him firmly centre stage, to the extent that it becomes a story where the Friar’s good intentions place him on the road to hell, with the tragedy of the star-crossed lovers as the source of his somewhat overwrought anguish. While this does give us a fine performance from Isaac Lee-Baker as Lawrence, it does so at the expense of the main thrust of the play.

A pity, for there is much to enjoy here. The whole company perform with faultless technical precision. Martha Leebolt and Giuliano Contadini impress and convince as the lovers, overcoming the fact that the minimalist set replaces the balcony scene with what is little more than a sloping plank. There are also fine and extremely well-judged performances from Matthew Koon and Sean Bates as Mercutio and Benvolio, who added just the right amount of laddishness and bravado that their roles require. And such was the skill, allied to the sheer physical presence, of Javier Torres, his Tybalt will live long in the memory.

The “action” sequences are well staged, too. There is no attempt at balletic swordplay, which is a plus. The cut and thrust of a street fight rarely comes across as convincing in more traditional dance, but here the strength of the choreography conveys the fatal results of the violence without a weapon in sight.

But I’m afraid I left the theatre vaguely unsatisfied. Of course, it is easier for an audience to identify with the young lovers than the hapless Friar, but the success of the play set the pattern for teenage romances through the ages, and if it had followed the plot line here, it is perhaps less likely that Romeo and Juliet would be the byword for romance that they are today.

Jim Welsh