Ben Duke and Lost Dog’s creative reworking of Shakespeare’s tragedy retells the classic tale of ‘love and death’ as ‘love and life’. Juliet and Romeo beautifully portrays that ‘love and life’ as passionate, mundane, tragic, and joyous all rolled into one – through clever writing, fantastic performances, stunning choreography and an overall beautiful atmosphere.
What would happen if Romeo Montague had raised that ill-fated bottle of poison to his lips, preparing to die because he just couldn’t bear to live without his love, but then faltered and suddenly thought better of it? Lost Dog Theatre’s Juliet and Romeo tells that story. And it does so incredibly well.
Juliet and Romeo not only works with and around the confines of the Shakespearean play; it completely redesigns the narrative. Told as part of a form of ‘marriage counselling’, the two eponymous characters (played by Lost Dog’s artistic director Ben Duke and dancer Solène Weinachter) share memories of their marriage on stage. These range from the retelling of the well-known story, to the aftermath that we hadn’t heard of before (highlights include a getaway to a new flat in Paris, the birth of a daugter, Romeo’s nine-to-five job, and Juliet’s stay-at-home motherhood).
The story does not shy away from the comical nature of this concept, nor skirt around mentions of the original play. Multiple references to Shakespeare’s original, Baz Lurman’s film adaptation, and Kenneth MacMillan’s ballet are present and in no way cliché but timed perfectly with the mood of the audience and the arc of the plotline. In fact, the audience experience every possible emotion through the 75-minute duration. Sections are laugh-out-loud funny, there’s moments of real sadness and anger, and portions of the piece that leave you speechless.
The journey the audience are taken on has a lot to do with the chemistry present in this two-hander. Duke and Weinachter are a pleasure to watch together, and play off each other incredibly well – helping the audience participate in their fleeting glances, passionate embraces, or exasperated eye rolls. Whilst engaging to watch as a duo, they also hold their own during the performance (both at times when their partner is in the wings and when they are in deep discussion). Each brings out the best in each other.
A notable moment occurs during Weinachter’s answer to a single question by Duke; ‘how was your day?’. This simple question results in a monologue revolving around pediatric appointments, forgotten purses, and parking tickets in which Weinachter’s physical comedy and acting prowess overshadow everything on stage before a movement by Duke brings the audience straight back to focus on the wider picture.
Duke and Winachter’s chemistry is no more noticeable than in how beautifully the move together across Battersea Arts Centre’s stage. The choreography is mesmerising – different and original enough to draw attention to each individual movement and how it helps to shape the narrative, but never so much that it detracts from the story itself. Choreographed to many pop classics, Juliet and Romeo is a delight for all the senses and a performance I would highly recommend.