Review: Northern Ballet’s Romeo and Juliet, Leeds Grand Theatre, Friday 8th March 2024

THE long-awaited resurrection of Northern Ballet’s legendary 1992 production, originally directed by Christopher Gable and choreographed by Massimo Moricone enchanted a packed Grand Theatre.

Last Friday evening’s opening performance was graced by their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh.

For never was a story of more woe than this of Juliet And Her Romeo. The same could be said of Lez Brotherston’s opulent scenery and costumes; damaged by fire in 2001 and wrecked by the flooding of Northern Ballet’s Bramley stores on Boxing Day 2015.

A successful fundraising appeal and the loving dedication of creatives ensured that every intricately crafted item could be painstakingly restored to its original Shakespearian splendour. Imposing wooden scenery dominated by monumental Roman columns transports the audience to a sun drenched square in 16th Century Verona. On the back wall is inscribed the motto Amor Vincit Omnia - Love Conquers All.

Breathtaking costumes clearly delineate the feuding families: Juliet’s kinsmen are dressed mainly in black with lashings of gold trim. The Montagues, including Romeo and his best friends Stefano Varalta’s Benvolio and Mercutio are in brighter colours. Aaron Kok’s showstopping Mercutio is marked out as something of the brave jester in his bold striped tights.

Ilkley Gazette: Romeo & Juliet, 2024, production, dancers Dominique Larose and Joseph TaylorRomeo & Juliet, 2024, production, dancers Dominique Larose and Joseph Taylor (Image: Emily Nuttall)

This production grabs our attention for 150 minutes through to the tragic denouement. Thanks to the beautifully nuanced expression of Northern Ballet’s wonderful dancers. The chemistry between Joseph Taylor’s virile Romeo and the delicate Juliet of Dominique Larose is mesmeric. The fight scenes as Tybalt, danced by Harry Skoupas, kills Mercutio and Romeo kills Tybalt explode onto the stage. There are light touches of comedy as Juliet’s Nurse, delightfully interpreted by Heather Lehan, interrupts the young lovers’ only night of bliss. She playfully smacks Romeo’s bum.

Sergei Prokofiev’s compelling music fills the gilded auditorium. One of the 20th century’s greatest ballet scores is played live by the Northern Ballet Sinfonia, conducted by Daniel Parkinson. The stark realisation that these responsive musicians are to be sacrificed on the altar of economy and replaced, almost certainly from next season, by a tape recorder, leaves a sinking feeling in the stomach. HRH Prince Edward, Duke of Edinburgh, in his assertive onstage speech stressed the importance of the live ballet orchestra. Go for it Edward!

Romeo and Juliet continues - with live music - until Saturday 16th March at Leeds Grand.