Romeo and Juliet: In conversation with Matthew

23 May 2019

One of the most emotional love stories in literary history is the inspiration for a brand new production from globally-acclaimed choreographer and director Matthew Bourne. He tells John Bultitude of Norwich Theatre Royal more.

The passionate and emotional story of star cross’d lovers Romeo and Juliet has inspired the world’s creative community for years spawning multiple versions and adaptations.

Paris Fitzpatrick and Cordelia Braithwaite in rehearsals for Romeo and Juliet
Paris Fitzpatrick and Cordelia Braithwaite in rehearsals for Romeo and Juliet Credit: Johan Persson

For Matthew Bourne, it was not so much the story but the opportunity to channel the enthusiasm and talent of young people which drove him to create his stunning production of Shakespeare’s iconic story.

He said: “I avoided it for years because it was something everyone expected me to do. It had been done in many different styles and mediums and I thought it would be hard to find a new way into it, which is something I always search for.   

“It is a story about young people, and I thought that was a great impetus into it because it is about young people and young love. I got more excited when it was suggested that we cast it with young people, we work with young creative associates in all the different departments on the show alongside all my usual world-class team that I work with, and it was all about nurturing them while telling the story. That is what got me excited about it.”

Set a few years in the future when society frowns at young people for having too much feeling and emotion, it zones in on that harnessing that same excitement in the cast. Matthew explained: “Dance is very good at extreme emotions, and Romeo and Juliet as a story is certainly full of those. It is full of passion, love against the odds, and several extremes of murder and violence. It is all those big emotions.

“One thing I have tried to bring out is that when young people first fall in love and they feel that passion, they really go overboard in many ways. I often think about how classical ballet handles this and how the young girl gets very excited by a kiss on the cheek. Young people today, if they are into each other, are kissing until their mouths are sore, and I have tried to capture a bit of that.”

Joining his professional company at each venue will be six up-and-coming talented young dancers who were chosen after a series of auditions. The three male and three female performers will appear alongside the professional company in every performance. Matthew explained: “They are an integral part of the show. They are not token appearances and are definitely part of the main company.”

The Montague company dancers with the Leicester Young Cast
The Montague company dancers with the Leicester Young Cast

In addition, each area of the creative process including lighting, sound and orchestration have a specially-appointed Associate Artist working hands-on with Matthew’s team. He enjoys a close professional relationship with Young Associate Choreographer Arielle Smith. “She is wonderful. Not only is she a great up and coming talent but I get on with her very well as well. We have a laugh,” said Matthew.

“With such an enormous age difference between us of 30 years or something, she is like a mate and is incredibly mature in the way she has handled the whole process and there is a lot of her and her work in it. She is not standing by my side watching me. She is taking rehearsals, creating movement, and she has been great.”

Arielle Smith in Romeo and Juliet rehearsals
Arielle Smith in Romeo and Juliet rehearsals Credit: Johan Persson

The show also boasts a brand new arrangement of Prokofiev’s music which will be performed live by an orchestra at each performance. Matthew said: “While Prokofiev’s music is wonderful and big and lush for big opera house productions and it suits that style of production, I wanted something a bit more earthy and quirky. We nervously went to the Prokofiev Estate and asked them if we could do a new arrangement. It is sounding wonderful and I hope the estate are happy.”

For Matthew, Romeo and Juliet is the latest project in a busy 2019 which also saw his iconic production of Swan Lake go back on tour and he was presented with a Special Award for services to dance. He recalled: “Swan Lake coming back is always a thrill because it does introduce so many more people to dance and to our company. In the middle of all that, getting the Olivier Special Award right in the middle of creating a new show was rather good. Getting an award like that can feel a bit like it is the end of your career and people are saying ‘Thank you, please stop.’ It felt great to be in the middle of a new creation when I got it. It was about the past and the future at the same time.”

Matthew admits when he started on Romeo and Juliet, he was daunted but that creative fear has been replaced by excitement with this brand-new addition to his 30 year creative portfolio which includes work in theatre, dance and film.

As far as Romeo and Juliet is concerned, he feels it has something to offer everyone. He said: “I don’t think dance needs to be scary. People do get worried because they think they are not going to get it. I don’t want people to feel that way.

“Equally I want people to have something to get their teeth into as you do when you see a great movie or play, or you are trying to follow the plot of Line of Duty on TV. You can’t just sit back so it is all easy, easy. It is challenging for our audiences in some ways but they have grown to love that in our work. They want twists  and there are some in this version, but it is all very clear and very easy to follow.

“What is coming across is this incredible energy among the performance and the fast-moving nature of it. What we have set out to do is celebrate this incredible youthful energy. The show explodes with it.”

So expect energy, enthusiasm and passion aplenty as Matthew Bourne’s latest creative masterpiece sets out to wow audiences.

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Romeo and Juliet

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