This vivacious new musical arrival in the West End opens with William Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway having a marital disagreement over his tragic ending for Romeo and Juliet. Wouldn’t it be better, she argues, if the heroine didn’t kill herself in the final scene? “She’s got her whole life ahead of her, and she’s only had one boyfriend.”
And so begins a hugely entertaining mash-up of Shakespearean drama and the pop music of Max Martin, whose hits include Britney Spears’ Oops! I Did It Again, Katy Perry’s I Kissed A Girl and Ariane Grande’s Problem.
They’re all here among the 30 or so songs that help propel Juliet’s journey from Verona to Paris and back again, as well as the big themes of female empowerment and being the person you want to be.
As Juliet, Miriam-Teak Lee belts out the hits brilliantly, and shines equally in the quieter, more reflective moments. Cassidy Janson’s Anne Hathaway is a force of nature who gives the show so much of its joie de vivre, and I also enjoyed the comedy pairing of Lance (David Bedella) and Nurse (Melanie La Barrie).
Jukebox musicals often get a lot of stick, but this one, directed by Luke Sheppard, is done so well that you’d have to have taken a big gulp of Juliet’s sleeping potion not to come out smiling.
& Juliet is at the Shaftesbury Theatre until 30 May 2020
So many superlatives have already been used to describe this production of Arthur Miller’s classic, originally a hit at the Young Vic, that it seems almost pointless to seek out any more.
Now in the West End, this version – with the Lomans as an African-American family – is one not to be missed. It is poetic, moving and devastating.
At its heart are four stunning performances. Wendell Pierce enthralls as Willy Loman, the salesman of the title for whom the American Dream has remained out of reach. As his wife Linda Loman, Sharon D Clarke crackles with love, anger and grief, and Sope Dirisu and Natey Jones are outstanding as the Loman sons Biff and Happy.
Marianne Elliott and Miranda Cromwell fill the the production with beautiful and subtle directorial touches such the use of silhouettes and as the way the characters sometimes find themselves repeating actions as if they have been transformed into animated gifs. The songs that permeate the story are beautifully handled.
Anna Fleischle’s impressive set, with its floating furniture and window frames, fills the whole play with hallucinatory unease.
On the night I saw this, a scene between Willy and his sons in Act Two was so emotionally charged that a man near me in the stalls spontaneously began to applaud. His solitary clap, ironically, destroyed the moment. But that’s how astounding the acting is in this production.
As the cast received a standing ovation at the end you could see it in their eyes that they know they are part of something very special indeed.
(This review was written after news broke of the ceiling collapse at the Piccadilly Theatre on 6 November. I was at the performance the previous evening. I wish those injured a speedy recovery and hope the production is able to get back to normal as soon as possible.)
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