Saturday, 23 November 2019

REVIEW: & Juliet at The Shaftesbury Theatre

After an extremely successful run at Manchester Opera House, ‘& Juliet’ has finally found a new home at the Shaftesbury Theatre in London. 

‘& Juliet is the hilarious and fun-loving new West End musical that asks: what if Juliet’s famous ending was really just her beginning? What if she decided to choose her own fate? Soaring with pop anthems including ...Baby One More Time, Everybody (Backstreet's Back), Love Me Like You Do and Can’t Feel My Face, & Juliet is a riotous blast of fun and glorious music that proves when it comes to love, there’s always life after Romeo.’

I saw the show on Thursday 21st of November, the night after press night. The press night is really worth mentioning here as it wasn’t your typical press night. It was full to the brim with A List celebrities, including Simon Cowell, Jessie J and the writer of the music and lyrics, Max Martin. Apart from the one original song written for this production, the show is packed with iconic pop songs from my generation, all written by Max Martin. 

To be completely honest, I was half expecting a ‘hungover show’ after seeing the Instagram stories of the press party the previous night. This was absolutely not the case. The cast looked fresh and energetic and really gave an impressive, fun performance. The ensemble looked like they were having the time of their lives throughout with stand out performances from Antoine Murray-Straughan and Kirstie Skivington. They really made me want to get up and join in! 

All aspects of the design of & Juliet is flawless. Paloma Young’s costume design is inclusive, smart and a perfect blend of traditional and modern. Soutra Gilmour is responsible for a stunning set design that compliments the lighting design by Howard Hudson. The set includes a revolve, multiple hydraulic lifts, pyrotechnics and much more with no expense spared. 

The book by David West Read, however, is flawed. The transitions from speech to song were stiff and 90% of the time, drew laughter from the audience and a few even buried their heads in their hands and cringed. I’m a firm believer in the phrase ‘One should only sing when there are no more words to speak’. This did not apply in this particular musical and it really made it hard to connect with what was happening in the story. By listening to the dialogue leading up to musical numbers, it was possible to guess what song was coming next - something that I didn’t enjoy and found to be lazy writing. 

This shows message is all about breaking away from the norm and making your
own choices. It try’s to tell us to break away from stereotypes and society’s expectations. This is a message I can fully support. However, this show back tracks on all of these. Juliet is used as an image of female empowerment but instead conforms to the original story and ends up still with the guy. As we follow the show we’re shown what a “douche” Romeo is and how ridiculous the original story is but in the end Juliet ignores all this and gives him another chance. I’m all about second chances, but after 2 hours of showing us why he’s so stupid, to go back to him? I’m confused. 

The character of May, played by Arun Blair-Mangat, is used as a device to represent our trans and non binary community - something I can totally get on board with. However, pairing that character with songs such as ‘I Kissed A Girl’ and more importantly, ‘Not Yet A Woman’ in a dramatic moment was completely contradictory and inappropriate; borderline offensive. This makes fun of this moment and brings comedy out of an issue we’re desperately trying to welcome in to society. 

Despite the questionable material that the cast are working with, Oliver Tompsett as Shakespeare and Cassidy Janson as Anne are the absolute stars of the show. They bring bundles of charisma and exquisite vocals to these completely ridiculous characters and force the audience to sympathise with them one moment and laugh at them the next. The talents of both Janson and Tompsett are widely known and respected and their performances are unsurprising - given their wealth of knowledge and experience in Musical Theatre.

Jordan Luke Gage gave a good performance as Romeo and I was definitely left wanting to hear more of him, vocally. In the small bits we did hear, he sounded stunning. I just wanted more. Miriam-Teak Lee as Juliet also gave a nice performance but was noticeably singing flat throughout most group numbers and high, sustained notes. Her voice sounded beautiful in the lower, slower solos but was tough to listen to in any other moments. This could well have been due to the volume of the music and sound on stage or poor monitoring but definitely sounded more like a vocal stretch. It was probably the loudest show i’ve ever sat through. Yes - even more so than Bat Out Of Hell. 

Overall, I enjoyed the show for what it was. For once I wish I knew more about it before going to see it as I definitely went in with a musical theatre mindset and it was much more like a very good, high budget pantomime with an extremely talented cast. The three stars I have given it would be for the talent and energy of the cast and the overall design. The material let it down. 

Review by Lucas Wang

Rating: ★★★

Seat: Stalls D24 | Price of Ticket: £75
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