Romeo and Juliet (Bristol Hippodrome) ****

ENB Romeo and Juliet photo Bill Cooper

Originally published on Reviews Hub

For those that like their theatrical experiences transcendent and spectacular, a trip to English National Ballet’s Romeo and Juliet, playing at Bristol Hippodrome as the first stop of a national tour to the middle of November, is a must.

Rudolf Nureyev’s 1977 staging still doesn’t feel like a war horse even if it has been running for almost forty years. Its embrace of the gothic provides interesting turns of narrative even for those of us who know the play like the back of our hand, as if Shakespeare has been filtered through the imagination of Guillermo del Toro. So we see carts of dead bodies being carted through the streets, masked goblin dice players, the brutal street execution of a monk and a figure of death coming to Juliet’s bed like Nosferatu. Even the ballroom scene dressed and draped in crimson is like an image of The Masque of the Red Death.

As one would expect from that most dynamic of performers, the choreography is designed to push its dancers to their physical limits and its three hour running time (including two intervals) is as fascinating for its chance to watch its leads at the top of their game engage in Herculean feats as it is watching them fall in love over their seven-and-a-half minute balcony pas de deux. Isaac Hernández is a dashingly heroic Romeo with a boyish charm and smile. He has that scarce quality of being able to dance with grace while maintaining a strong masculine quality. Having recently joined ENB full time, he could be about to become the next breakout dancing star. The biggest compliment of all is that he is more than a match for Alina Cojocaru’s Juliet.

Cojocaru is a feat of nature, with perfect line and exquisite leaps and her artistry after twenty years is beyond compare. She still manages to convince as a waif-like teen, her girlish excitement after setting eyes on Romeo sees her spinning around the room in joyful abandon. Yet later, after spending the night with her lover, we see her mature, her later decisions to fake her suicide suggest someone completely in control. Any event when you see an artist completely in control is always worth recommending. She will dance one more Juliet this tour in Manchester. It’s sure to be a hot ticket.

There is plenty more to recommend even if Cojocaru isn’t appearing. The stage is constantly awash with action and colour, the sword fights choreographed by B.H. Barry are swashbucklingly thrilling and there is a gem of a Mercutio, all lithe-limbed mischief by Cesar Corrales, cut down in his prime and his death treated as a practical joke until the gang realises it may be more than just a scratch.

It’s a ballet to convert believer and non-believer alike, a Romeo and Juliet that in its thrills and exquisite tones comes closest to fully realising one of the most famous of love stories.

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