Last Updated on November 13, 2021
Beyond Shakespeare – & Juliet at the Shaftesbury Theatre
& Juliet is celebrating its second anniversary in the West End. It has been wowing audiences since it first opened in November 2019, going on to receive nine nominations for the Laurence Oliver Awards.
This fresh and joyous musical directed by Luke Sheppard is a witty and contemporary take on Shakespeare’s classic coming of age tale of Romeo and Juliet with pop music at its core and a songbook packed with 90’s mega-hits from the acclaimed Swedish songwriter and producer Max Martin. Martin has cleverly interwoven some of his most iconic songs into the narrative including tracks he created for Britney Spears such as ‘Baby One More Time’ and ‘Oops!…I Did it Again’, together with ‘I Kissed a Girl’ (Katy Perry), Backstreet Boys track ‘I Want It That Way’ to name but a few.
The narrative rewrites the ending of Romeo and Juliet. What if Juliet’s tragic end was instead a new beginning? Shakespeare’s wife Anne Hathaway is played by Cassidy Janson, who I first saw giving a powerful performance as Carole King in the biopic musical Tapestry in 2015. Janson is a strong and feisty performer with a great voice. She portrays Anne as a plucky character who is fed up with being left in Stratford-Upon- Avon to look after the children, whilst her husband Will Shakespeare (Oliver Tompsett)is living the life of a successful playwright in London. Anne finally takes the reins with a feminist intervention asking Will to change the outcome of Juliet’s story. Instead of taking her own life, Juliet (Miriam-Teak Lee) leaves Verona embarking on a trip to Paris seeking adventure and independence, along with her Nurse (Melanie La Barrie), Anne and May (Arun Blair-Mangat) Juliet’s non-binary friend.
In Paris, they gate-crash a party where Juliet is matched with Francois (Tim Mahendran) who is yet to stand up to his father Lance’s (Davis Bedella) expectations and follow his own path by coming to terms with his sexuality. Nurse rekindles a romance with old flame Lance and May searches for true love. Just to complicate matters Romeo (Jordan Luke Gage) is resurrected and comes to join the party.
This is Shakespeare turned upside down and inside out, pantomime style… big bold, current, camp, fun and glitzy. It ticks all the right boxes, a story of self-discovery which embraces difference, pansexuality and gender identity and provides relatable themes with the older parents who don’t understand the kids, resonating powerfully with young people. The songs are cross-generational and instantly recognisable which creates a place of mutual celebration.
& Juliet employs metatheatrical devices, cleverly weaving three separate narratives through the play; Juliet and Romeo, Anne and Will and the final one told via the songbook (with references to memorable pop videos) which creates a story of its own.
An ebullient cast keep spirits high throughout, Miriam-Teek Lee gives a powerhouse performance as Juliet representing an empowered black modern woman. Other standout performances included David Bedella’s fabulous Lance and Oliver Thompsett makes a likeable Will, who looks like he could well have belonged in a 90s boyband. With Elizabethan era shows all the rage right now it’s no wonder this is such a hit. It’s a slick, well-scripted and very well-targeted package, the perfect marriage of pop music and musical theatre, which with the combination of upbeat music, tremendous choreography (Jennifer Weber) and dazzling stage projections (Andrzej Goulding) is an utterly entertaining night out.
210 Shaftesbury Ave,
London WC2H 8DP