Nov 21st, 2019
If you think that there couldn't possibly be room for another jukebox musical in London then you'd be very wrong as & Juliet (written by David West Read and directed by Luke Sheppard) storms into the Shaftesbury Theatre with the music of Max Martin in its clutches.
If you don't know who Max Martin is then you'll definitely know his songs, "Hit Me Baby One More Time" anyone? Having written number one songs for the likes of Adele, Taylor Swift, Bon Jovi and Britney Spears, Martin is one of the globe's most prolific super-producers. And now whose tracks have now found their way into the most famous story in the world, Romeo and Juliet.
Well, not quite Romeo and Juliet as this brand new musical rips up the Shakesperian rule book and gives the fated lovers a new story to tell. In this reincarnation Juliet doesn't die, instead, she heads off to Paris in the hope of starting her life anew. This all comes at the will of William Shakespeare's long-suffering and ignored wife, Anne Hathaway (yes, they do make a joke about the name). Anne (impishly played by Cassidy Janson) is bored of women not having agency in Bill's plays and begs her arrogant husband (Oliver Tompsett) to let her help rewrite the ending of the soon to be finished 'greatest tragedy of all time'.
A stellar cast do a fine job in the performance of Read's book and Martin's music but, as with most jukeboxers the songs never quite fit the story. Although they create some diva moments for the talented Miriam-Teak Lee (who stars as Juliet), they come too quickly and too frequently. Barely a breath has been taken after the last pop-anthem finishes before another rather loud, flashy, and confusing number-one-hit comes along.
The book too is a little confusing and could be argued as wishy-washy at times. Is it really Juliet who takes control of her life or Anne Hathaway who guides her on her path? The book does a disservice to its supposed heroine, Juliet, making her seem more like a petulant child rather than a young woman on the verge of a breakthrough. If anything the musical should be called & Anne.
It also does a disservice to its noble goal of including a range of body types, sexualities, and genders on stage. May, Juliet's best friend who heads off with her to Paris, is gender fluid, and is a wave of fresh air into the overstuffed cis stories that take up most of the West End. However, the part (performed by Arun Blair-Mangat) is thinly written, and although represents an important message about 'Love is Love', it relies too heavily on the 'sassy queer bestfriend' stereotype to create jokes.
Perhaps I am being too cynical and disparaging of a musical that is here to entertain. And & Juliet certainly doesn't take itself too seriously. It keeps the laughs coming and the strobe light industry in business with its flashy Disney-land on drugs production. All sorts of technical wonders mean that there is always something to look at, with the plush quasi-Elizabethan set and costumes and the street dance-infused choreography all helping to solidify the fact that this isn't your normal Romeo and Juliet production.
In short then, & Juliet is a lot of fun. It's not going to win Nobel prizes or Pulitzers, but it will keep you entertained for two and a half hours. I would suggest going with expectations low, but your dancing shoes on.
Three and a half stars.
View our show pages for more information about & Juliet, Shaftesbury Theatre.
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