Reviewed – 7th April 2022
“undeniably good fun and any viewer will be blown away by the sheer grandeur of the production”
What if Romeo and Juliet didn’t end so tragically? The hit West End musical & Juliet (directed by Luke Sheppard) sets about answering exactly that by giving Juliet (Miriam-Teak Lee) a second chance at life. When Shakespeare (Oliver Tompsett) is convinced by his wife Anne Hathaway (Cassidy Janson) to write the play’s famous conclusion, Juliet and her best friends Anne, May (Alex Thomas-Smith) and Nurse (the incredible Keala Settle of Hands on a Hardbody fame) embark on a wild trip to Paris to live out their lives without restriction. A love triangle with the sweet Francois (Tim Mahendran) soon unfolds and things get all the more complicated when Romeo (Tom Francis) comes back to life…
The fantastical reimagining hinges around a selection of world-famous pop hits by the Swedish producer and writer Max Martin. Song after song is hurled at the audience, some more fitting than others to the scenario at hand. The Backstreet Boys’ ‘I Want It That Way’ is reprised several times to really highlight the message of the musical – the importance of making your own choice. Demi Lovato’s ‘Confident’ is a particularly enjoyable number which Juliet and Francois belt out with gusto and ‘Oops!…I Did It Again’ is comically employed when Juliet finds herself engaged after only one day of romance…again.
Max Martin’s songs are great crowd pleasers and a lot of fun but the jukebox musical always suffers by its song limitations and the songs already feel dated only three years after the musical’s release. There is also no one song that packs a real punch. The incredibly strong voice of Lee is unfortunately underused and apart from the finale song ‘Roar’ (by Katy Perry), our lead does not have a big number that she can really sink her teeth into. The band – led by Patrick Hurley – do a phenomenal job of keeping up with the incredible pace of the production with 29 total songs and countless other reprisals.
Lee is phenomenal – we will no doubt be seeing much more of her. Janson and Tompsett have great chemistry and expertly guide the story on its ways. Settle is, as expected, an absolute powerhouse, leading on laughs but also offering particularly touching moments with both Juliet and her lover Lance, Francois’ father (Julius D’Silva). The choreography (Jennifer Weber) is very strong and brings a real energy to the production.
The cast should also be praised for its diversity – in both gender expression and ethnicity. It is refreshing to see so many different types of people on stage and Janson’s proclamation that someone’s gender and sexuality is none of our business garners cheers from the West End audience.
The set and staging (Soutra Gilmour) is second to none. Objects and set pieces fly in and out; characters are lifted into the sky on chandeliers and balconies; pyrotechnics, glitter and confetti rains galore. The incredible production value makes certain scenes – mostly notably the finale – feel more like a concert than our typical theatre show. Accompanied by adventurous video and projection design by Andrezej Goulding, the audience is fully immersed in Juliet’s Parisian adventure. The lighting (Howard Hudson) too contributes to the great spectacle with strobes and spotlights a regular feature and Paloma Young’s neo-Elizabethan costumes do wonders to bring the whole show together.
Some issue can be taken with the show’s appearance of being a feminist corrective to Shakespeare when in fact Juliet once again finds herself centering her life around a man albeit a much nicer one than playboy Romeo. Moreover, amongst all the excitement, Juliet is left without almost any personality. Her characterization is akin to a princess in a pantomime, lacking any real goals or aims. It is a shame she does not have more vigour and that the writers did not think to give her some sort of career-orientated plot, for example.
& Juliet is undeniably good fun and any viewer will be blown away by the sheer grandeur of the production. It is just unfortunate that the general message of the importance agency is a good one is sometimes underpinned by the characters and plot itself.
Reviewed by Flora Doble
Photography by Johan Persson
Shaftesbury Theatre until 24th September
Five star shows reviewed this year: