dpm is a Birmingham-based freelancer with experience of arts and lifestyle features.
Choreographer and dancer Rosie Kay promised a new Romeo and Juliet for Birmingham – set on its city streets and in the hearts of its young people. And it's a bleak picture.
Premiered at Birmingham Hippodrome, the piece is based on Shakespeare's classic tale and follows a similar narrative of the two star-crossed lovers torn apart by circumstance. But where the division in Shakespeare is based on family rivalry passed down through the generations, now it's based in gang culture among young adults.
Romeo and Juliet
Rosie doesn't pull her punches. These young people are feral – their basic instincts are anger and suspicion which erupt into violence, not just between gangs but also between members of the same gang. There are disturbing scenes in which Romeo is initiated into the gang by receiving a series of knife wounds and Juliet is threatened and kidnapped by Paris.
Juliet, performed by Mayowa Ogunnaike, is young, optimistic and full of life – which makes her death all the harder to take. Romeo, performed by Subhash Viman Gorania is lyrical, a poet in dance, who charms the heart of Juliet. When the two come together at the masked party there are moments of real tenderness – in all this hate they can find true love.
The characterisation across the cast is very strong. David Devyne is an angry Ty, a gangland master, matched only by his counterpart Merc, played by Deepraj Singh. Dan Baines as Paris is a bully – determined to bend Juliet to his will. And, in contrast, there is Patrick Ross Webster's Ben, who comes to realise the cycle of violence must stop.
Created by Rosie and the cast, the work is a combination of dance disciplines including strands from South Asia, street, hip-hop and contemporary and yet all blend seamlessly. Composer Annie Mahtani has also created a soundtrack of electric-acoustic and classical music by Berlioz which complement each other, dipping into orchestral and then out again into almost jarring moments of sound.
At its close, there is a strong message for peace and reconciliation as we realise there are now more dead gang members than are left alive. A gate with floral tributes lowers to the ground and Ben symbolically gives up his knife – this will be a new beginning. This show is very much rooted in the classical Romeo and Juliet story but Kay has taken its storylines and brought them kicking and screaming into the 21st century.
Although only performed for one date in September, Rosie Kay Dance Company's Romeo and Juliet returns alongside Birmingham Royal Ballet's performance of Edward Clug's Radio and Juliet in the Carlos Curates: R&J Reimagined double bill at Birmingham Hippodrome on 14-16 October.