Romeo and Juliet, Sadler’s Wells, London – review

It is difficult to know quite what to make of the Romeo and Juliet with which the National Ballet of Canada makes its return to London after a quarter of a century. There is the Prokofiev score, played by the Royal Ballet Sinfonia, making its blaring presence felt with a singular lack of nuance. There are Richard Hudson’s very determined settings of Verona – seemingly made of unrelieved and solid terracotta or featuring 1950s-modish drapery – and inhabited by characters who have plainly lost the last vestiges of taste and have opted for ferocious outfits of alarming Renaissance cut. Paris, in cream, has a hussar’s jacket, a kilt, massive sleeves and gaiters – lucky him – while Lady Montagu boasts a sequinned cushion-cover as hat, and local revellers brazenly declare their hapless identities.

And there is Alexey Ratmansky’s recent choreography, sometimes determinedly jokey and needing sedation, and failing signally to explain the world of young love and feuding families that is its concern. And there, too, are the dancers, beating themselves to a pulp in an attempt to make us believe that we are watching Shakespeare’s tragedy. Not a bit of it! What I saw was an all-too-earnest response to Prokofiev’s score by artists who deserve better, from a choreographer who has done much, much better.

This interminable event, with its puny crowd scenes, its dire predictabilities of characterisation, its swishing acreage of risible outfits and, alas, less-than-persuasive interpretations – Juliet as head girl; Romeo and his laddish chums roaring over the stage but with dramatic cogency notably absent – is the least appealing of visiting cards. Ratmansky’s innovations allow the young lovers a brief reunion in the tomb and we are treated to a statutory reconciliation of the two family clans worthy of a waxworks.

But nowhere does the narrative offer expressive force. We understand and maybe we even sympathise with the tragic young, but that is because we know we must, not because the production encourages belief or emotional response. Rather the opposite. Admirer of the troupe for 40 years, I know that the National Ballet of Canada is tremendously better than this posturing charade.

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