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A Balletic Story Of More Woe

Romeo and Juliet at Royal Opera House ★★★★☆

Lise Smith
By Lise Smith Last edited 20 months ago
A Balletic Story Of More Woe Romeo and Juliet at Royal Opera House 4
Evgenia Obraztsova, Genesia Rosato, Steven McRae and members of the corps de ballet in Romeo and Juliet, The Royal Ballet © ROH/Johan Persson, 2013

This year marks the 50th anniversary of one of the jewels in the Royal Ballet's crown: Kenneth MacMillan's first three-act story ballet, Romeo and Juliet. Created with dancers Lynne Seymour and Christopher Gable in 1965, and triumphantly premiered by the superstar pairing of Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev, the ballet has rarely been out of repertory since and — thanks to MacMillan's naturalistic approach — still holds up as a strikingly modern classic.

For this anniversary run, the first cast on rotation is led by Steven McRae and Sarah Lamb as the doomed lovers. Lamb has regularly shone in abstract, technical roles but has a tendency to feature in later casts for story ballets; it's a pleasure to be able to witness her get her teeth into a dramatic, expressive role as the blossoming young Juliet. McRae deals with the challenge facing every Romeo — how to make a teenager last seen swooning over the fair Rosaline into a credible lover and husband — by playing him as sweetly infatuated rather than drippily dreamy or rampantly lustful.

Lamb, for her part, grows from a blushing ingenue more interested in playing with her Nurse than being married off to Ryoichi Hirano's Paris, to a teenager in the first throes of love, to a young woman determined to make her own decisions in the face of family and social pressure. The tragic consequences of these decisions are of course known to the audience from the outset; the job of the performers is to make vivid both the joy of first love and the cruelty of death. Perhaps Lamb isn't quite as agonised as Tamara Rojo, nor McRae as impossibly boyish as Carlos Acosta, but both create meaningful, readable performances that keep the tragedy as fresh as ever.

Performances for this run are selling out fast but, if you can't get to the Royal Opera House, there's a chance to see a live outdoor screening with this cast on Tuesday 22 September. Head down to Trafalgar Square or Canary Wharf from 7.30pm to catch the heartrending action.

Romeo and Juliet is at the Royal Opera House, Bow Street, WC2E 9DD, until 2 December. Tickets £6-£127. Londonist saw this show on a complimentary review ticket.

Last Updated 22 September 2015