Matthew Bourne’s Romeo & Juliet

King’s Theatre, Glasgow

Mary Brennan

Four stars

The young lives of Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers were tragically blighted by the warring rivalries of their powerful families. Fast forward to a time akin to our own, with Matthew Bourne’s radical re-working of that narrative now isolating troubled teenagers in the Verona Institute where strict regimentation - and controlling medication - erode any hint of individuality or rebellious behaviour. Conformity seems the goal here, regardless of any personal or emotional needs.

Juliet is already a resident, a victim of brutal sexual abuse by one of the guards, Tybalt. The awkward, naive Romeo is dumped there by his parents - he doesn’t fit in with their political ambitions or social aspirations.

Their abrupt deaths, like that of the ‘out, proud and defiant’ Mercutio, are a harrowing reminder of the sorry waste of life among young adults ostensibly ‘in care’ in an uncaring society. Not in some distant doublet-and-hose past, but in our own times.

It’s meant to shock, and Bourne ensures that it does.

Liz Brotherston’s set - clanging metal doors, clinical white tiles - emphasises the joyless nature of the place. Terry Davies’s orchestration (and re-jigging) of the Prokofiev score underpins Bourne’s choreography with a fresh intensity and immediacy - the Dance of the Knights becomes the militaristic dynamic that drives the almost-robotic movements of the white-clad inmates as they obediently drill with rigid synchronicity.

Any hint of camaraderie is stifled, superficially at least, which lends a lovely urgency to the larky moves of Mercutio (Ben Brown) and his mates even as it heightens the poignancy that builds during Romeo and Juliet’s doomed romance.

Rory Macleod and Monique Jonas bring hungry passion but also a sweet tenderness to Bourne’s lyrical pas-de-deux. Their love is like a beacon of hope to the other unwanted teenagers - the whole company bring this alive with persuasive conviction and a seemingly effortless mastery of Bourne’s story-telling moves.