Review: & Juliet
Written by Jamie Griffiths on March 11, 2023
Review: & Juliet
11/03/2023 – Shaftesbury Theatre, London by Tiffany Chevis
You think you know Shakespeare’s most tragic romance, but what if all was not as it seems? & Juliet is the reimagining of that well-known tale, if the fates of the two young lovers were not quite written in the stars…
The show is filled with music from renowned producer Max Martin and the hundreds of artists who brought them to life. The book by David West Read cleverly interweaves these familiar tunes to create a witty and memorable story. Whether you’re a fan of every song or not, the energy and vivacity under Luke Sheppard’s direction is infectious.
We start by meeting the Bard himself – at this production performed by Alex Tranter – as he declares his literary prowess at the presentation of a brand new play, blasting on to the stage with Larger than Life. Each number is as brash and bold as you would hope for, combining subtle Shakespearean puns with all the glam and glitter of pop-stars, keeping every toe tapping regardless of musical taste. Tranter is charming but with plenty of humour throughout as he desperately tries to keep himself in the spotlight.
But his story of teenagers tackling forbidden love and overbearing families with dire and permanent consequences is not applauded as he’d hoped, as in steps his wife – Anne Hathaway. A woman left on the sidelines to raise a family whilst her famous husband churns out plays, Cassidy Janson shows the frustrations of marriage but with a lasting girlish hope for love and happiness that is endearing and fully relatable. As she declares that Juliet doesn’t have to die too, here we have a second story to unfold, with the spouses declaring I Want It That Way as the players desperately keep up with the re-writes. Janson has excellent West End pedigree from past performances as Carol in Beautiful, and watching her find freedom and expression is uplifting. Taking the role of Juliet’s friend April in the play-within-a-play, Janson shows the struggles of a wife and mother to reconnect with her younger self.
Miriam-Teak Lee is, as you would expect from her growing shelf of awards, an incredible spirit on stage with a childlike thrill that morphs into a self-assured young woman in the titular role. She turns Baby One More Time into a heart-rending letter of grief, in huge contrast to the high-octane Roar.
The show has several particularly touching moments – Joe Foster plays Juliet’s best friend May, and the use of I’m Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman to tell their story is poignant and elegantly done. Proving that inclusivity doesn’t have to be demonstrative, this particular storyline was natural and necessary.
Juliet is not without love interests, with new boy Francois “Frankie” given a reflective and sincere heart by Billy Nevers. From his tentative part in Confident to the buzzing I Kissed a Girl, we see his self-acceptance unfurl and become one of the most pivotal parts of the production.
But when Romeo – spoiler! – is given a second chance, Tom Francis gives us an emotional and overly romantic rocker, all poetry and puffed sleeves but with a gravelly voice just made for entertaining crowds.
Paloma Young’s costumes are vibrant and engaging, cleverly mixing Elizabethan silhouettes with modern twists and hidden motifs. From neon pink puff-ball skirts and glitter jackets, to sneakers and high-tops, each character has a unique style and identity. See if you can spot the clever device used throughout to signify to the audience which of the Shakespeare pair is in control of the scene..!
& Juliet is a far cry from the dry teaching of Shakespeare most English Literature students would be used to. Celebrating freedom, femininity, and fearlessness, you’ll leave with glitter in your eyes and a pounding in your ears.