Just as in life, ‘What If’ is a big and powerful question in storytelling and when it comes to theatre, the simple question of ‘What If?’ can take a story and completely flip it upside down. What if Donna had known whether Sam, Bill or Harry were Sophie’s father? What if the members of The Four Seasons had been able to get along better? What if Evan had simply told the truth? The possibilities are endless but let me take you away from all of that for a moment and apply the question of ‘What If’ to one of William Shakespeare’s most iconic and most famous tales. Romeo and Juliet, the tale of star-crossed lovers, waring families, and a classic example of miscommunication.
& Juliet, directed by Luke Sheppard and filled to the rafters with a catalogue of Max Martin hits, takes the world-famous story, and completely turns it on its head. What if Juliet didn’t kill herself when she woke up to find Romeo dead? What if her tragic ending was really only just the beginning? What if William Shakespeare was forced to hand over the reins of his story to his wife Anne Hathaway? It asks if, for Juliet, is there life after Romeo, can she give life just one more try?
From the offset, we are propelled into a larger than life, colourful, exciting world where Shakespeare’s players, played by the talented ensemble cast, bring to life every wish and desire of the legendary William Shakespeare (played at this performance by Alex Tranter) and a flick of the all-powerful quill. He introduces his newest play ‘Romeo and Juliet’ complete with its tragic ending, only for his wife Anne (played by Cassidy Janson) to question his every decision. She wants to see Juliet (Miriam-Teak Lee) get on with her life, experience freedom after Romeo and to go and find herself some new opportunities. But is William a strong enough man to write a strong woman? As Anne takes control of the quill, the story begins and we see an adventure unfold, one full of romance, conflict, and music. David West Read’s book mixes the old with the new, not taking itself too seriously as the performers are given the opportunity to break the fourth wall and the story is allowed to become amazingly self-aware, much to the delight of the audience who cheer, laugh and holler as each and every popular hit that is included slots effortlessly into the story.
Miriam-Teak Lee’s Juliet is passionate, determined and perhaps a little bit too confident at times for her own good. She acts on impulse, seizes every moment, and throws herself in at the deep end. Her interaction with Janson, who plays Anne playing the role of one of Juliet’s friends April, and Alex Thomas-Smith as her other friend May are sweet and believable and you easily find yourself rooting for the trio to reach a conclusion that works best for them. With vocals that could raise the roof and a cheeky spark that entirely suits the character, the role of Juliet only goes to prove Lee all the more deserving of the Olivier award she took home for her performance in 2021.
Alex Tranter took on the role of William Shakespeare at this performance and made the role very much his own. William is a character who is used to getting his own way, and when faced with having to argue over his own story with his own wife, he delights in jumping it and out, creating roles for himself and desperately trying to get the story he wants to tell back on track. Cassidy Janson’s Anne is cheeky and impulsive, jumping into the action and the fun whilst also becoming a confidante for Juliet, someone she can turn too when things go wrong. Janson’s rendition of ‘That’s The Way It Is’ soars over the captivated audience, a real highlight. As troubled Francois, Tim Mahendran shows off his skills for balancing humour with heartbreak as the characters battles with finding who they are and dealing with his father’s expectations of him. He gets a number of laughs from the audience as he tries to be more confident, aided by Juliet, and finds himself biting off more than he can chew. Aided by Shakespeare, Romeo isn’t completely forgotten in his story. Brought back into the action by William, he is faced with the challenge of trying to win Juliet back and adjusting to starting to get his own life on track. Played by Tom Francis, Romeo is a funny charming and sweet. Alex Thomas-Smith’s May is a character in conflict with themselves, struggling to find their place in the world whilst trying to do what is best for those around them, and you can’t help but hope for the best outcome for them.
Perhaps best known for playing the role of bearded lady Lettie Lutz in The Greatest Showman, Keala Settle recently joined the cast of & Juliet in her West End debut, and I have to say that her performance was a highlight of the show with her performance of ‘F**ckin Perfect’ being worth the ticket price alone. She is a breath of fresh air as Nurse, naturally bouncing off the energy of Julius D’Silva as Lance with a flair for fun and comedy. The ensemble (Shakespeare’s players) skip from role to role effortlessly, filling the stage with energy and passion in dance number after dance number with an apparent ease.
The cleverness of & Juliet really comes from both the audience already knowing the story of Romeo and Juliet and being allowed to laugh at its tales of miscommunication and loves young dreams along with the audience knowing the vast majority of the songs so well. As soon as the music starts, we know the songs and can see just how well they have been woven into the story and this awareness adds to the party atmosphere that the show creates. This production gives the Shakespeare classic a whole new spin, and with its catalogue of popular songs, there truly is something for everybody. With the characters aware at how ridiculous some of the scenarios are from rushed romances to coming back from the dead, dealing with said scenarios with comedy and flair, along with the predictability of some of the song choices, this is a show that could put a smile on anyone’s face. And you can rest assured that you will leave the theatre with a plethora of pop classics going around and around in your head.
You can buy tickets to & Juliet here https://www.londonboxoffice.co.uk/and-juliet
Images found via Google, not my own