Review: The Royal Ballet’s Romeo and Juliet Live from the Royal Opera House in Millennium Square, Bristol

[Photo credit: Rob Brewer]

The final act of the BP Big Screens series of live and free relays from the Royal Opera House this summer was Kenneth MacMillan’s dazzling ballet of the classic Shakespeare tale of star-crossed lovers. Shown in cinemas and outdoor venues across the country, The Royal Ballet opened its doors to allow the public to witness a classic of 20th-century ballet. This, I think, was the perfect choice for ballet fans and newcomers alike, as the story is so well known and is considered a key work in the Company’s repertory since its creation in 1965.

I initially toyed with the idea of booking tickets to watch it at a cinema, but once I heard that ‘Big Screen Bristol’ were showing it in Millennium Square (organised by Bristol City Council and At-Bristol), I decided that’s where I would go to watch it. A cinema, I thought, would not be that far different from the usual experience of watching a ballet in a theatre, though admittedly less grand and with the addition of camera angles. But watching a ballet outside in the cold? That would be different.

Upon reaching Millennium square on a cold Tuesday evening, the sound of Sergey Prokofiev’s Introduction for the ballet was already playing and the square was packed with people. It was buzzing – people of all ages and all walks of life had turned up to witness the stunning 3 hour production, and it did not disappoint. Not only did the rain hold off, I somehow managed not to completely freeze. The whole experience was magical.

Steven McRae and Sarah Lamb’s connection and breathtaking talent meant for two convincing performances of the titular characters. The innocence and naïve nature of Juliet really shone through Lamb’s delicate movements and wide-eyed expressions. Their three pas de deuxs during the course of the evening were simply beautiful to watch, a perfect match to Prokofiev’s gorgeous score. It is perhaps the first time I have ever watched a version of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and been genuinely upset when they met their tragic end, if only because I could no longer watch them dance together.

I was intrigued to see whether the audience in the square would applaud like a theatre audience, and for most of the first act this was not the case. That was, until the end of the balcony scene when the whole crowd clapped and cheered (along with a few wolf whistles that wouldn’t normally be found in the opera house). From that point on the applause reflected that of the audience in the theatre, although with the addition of some shouts of ‘Go on son!’ during the kiss in the wedding scene from a few of the more intoxicated members of the crowd.

A definite highlight of the evening was during ‘Dance of the Knights’ (aka ‘Montagues and Capulets’) when a large portion of the crowd could be heard muttering something along the lines of ‘Isn’t this the music from the [BBC’s] Apprentice?’, which at first made me slightly frustrated that a large portion of the audience didn’t know the origin of such a famous piece of music. Thinking about it more, it only serves to prove the importance of events such as this, bringing masterpieces like this body of classical work to the masses and being in some way educational.

From start to finish this production was incredibly enjoyable and impressive, the acting from all of the performers felt organic, and all of the fighting and subsequent death scenes were dramatic and well-timed. If you can get yourself to the Royal Opera House in London to catch this production before it closes at the start of December I would highly recommend it.

As far as watching a Ballet in Millennium Square goes, it was certainly different in a good way. While I will always love getting dressed up and going to the theatre to watch a ballet, for a completely different atmosphere (not to mention a free seat) ballet screenings in outdoor venues are a wonderful idea and I hope to go to many more in the future (though maybe taking a camping chair and thermos next time!)

Filed under: Theatre & Dance