Romeo and Juliet

Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

Mary Brennan


Long after the star-crossed lovers have mouldered into dust, Friar Lawrence is still anguished by his own part in the tragedy. It's his daily penance of remembering that is the framework for Jean-Christophe Maillot's Romeo and Juliet - given its UK premiere last week by Northern Ballet. The Friar (a lean, lithely-wrenching Isaac Lee-Baker) recalls people, and events, not the backdrop of buildings or the pomp and pageantry of vendetta between Capulet and Montague, and so Maillot sets his vividly expressive choreography in a minimalist white space - colour washes filter in mood shifts, curved flats occasionally move across stage like a filmic screen-wipe. No place or time-period is imposed here. Sword fighting-by-numbers? Out, along with market-place clutter: his ballet is focussed, with a consummate degree of physical and emotional detail, on hot-blooded, hot-headed youth - and because it is so unburdened by design, the movement has room to breathe dynamic life into a familiar story.

Juliet (Martha Leebolt, eagerly on the cusp of womanhood) is allowed to be bold: she simply pounces on Romeo (Giuliano Contadini, a carefree boy ambushed by love, rather than adolescent lust) so that frisky flirtation morphs into the compelling passion implicit in the Prokofiev score. As for Mercutio (Matthew Koon) and his best mate Benvolio (Sean Bates) - Maillot gives them larky-laddish footwork, nippy and nimble and all the more technically demanding because of it. They both strut the stuff of teen spirit brilliantly until a silly scuffle turns vicious... We know how it ends, but Maillot's flair for creating believable characters through seemingly spontaneous movement really makes us care. Like Friar Lawrence, we'll remember this Romeo and Juliet, albeit for more tender reasons.