& Juliet Is A Delightful Blend Of Shakespeare And Pop Bangers

& Juliet, Shaftesbury Theatre ★★★★☆

By James FitzGerald Last edited 56 months ago

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Last Updated 21 November 2019

& Juliet Is A Delightful Blend Of Shakespeare And Pop Bangers & Juliet, Shaftesbury Theatre 4
Photo: Johan Persson

You may not know his name, but you certainly know his tunes. Songwriter and producer Max Martin has had more US number ones than anyone except Paul McCartney and John Lennon. One prolific talent meets another in & Juliet, a euphoric and stunningly produced musical which uses Martin's songs to rework Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet.

Anne Hathaway — not the real one — the Bard's neglected wife, demands that William spare Ms Capulet at the end of his famous tragedy. "I want it that way", Anne insists in a joyous invocation of the Backstreet Boys. Newly alive, Juliet (Miriam Teak-Lee) is free to find friends, love — and to belt out Katy Perry's Roar. High-top trainers stomp on lavish sets which bring punk to Elizabethan Verona and Paris. Mash-up mashes with bewildering mash-up.

Photo: Johan Persson

Like Six, this David West Read-penned show imagines what might have happened if women in history had more control over their own destinies. Unlike its West End cousin, & Juliet does not invent its own songs. Tension is inevitable between building a worthy shrine to Martin's back-catalogue (some 30 hits feature), and reinventing Shakespeare for a feminist age. With a lingering question about Juliet's self-determination, it's the mostly former that wins. The music's too good to matter.

A lovely subplot imagines Juliet's gay best friend pursuing forbidden love with a nervous young Frenchman. Britney Spears's I'm Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman works well here, as a duet expressing sexual awakening for both. Aside from as gender fluidity, & Juliet primarily looks to Shakespeare for puns (there are some bad ones about nuns) and dodgy accents, meaning the show is no stranger is pantomime humour.

While not as nuanced as Martin's songwriting, & Juliet makes a new case that theatre and gig-experience aren't such strange bedfellows. Best enjoyed loud and proud.

& Juliet, Shaftesbury Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, WC2H 8DP, £22.50-£110. Until 30 May 2020