The best way to celebrate hump day, that midpoint of a working week, is to enjoy a night out. In London there is always something to do, it is quite possibly the best thing about living in London, that there is always something to do on a weeknight.
Thanks to Cyber Monday, theatre tickets are on sale to see some of the top shows on the West End cheaply. It had been a while since I had been to the theatre, and there felt like no time like the present before the end of the year to see one final show for the year.
Based on the shows that were discounted, and one show that I had seen advertised but was unsure how good it was, and whether I would be willing to pay a lot of money for it, I chose to take advantage of the sale and see the musical ‘& Juliet’. A modern day re-telling of Romeo and Juliet. I had gone in thinking the show would be cheesy and a little weird, having low expectations.
It is loud, bright and fun, not to mention clever. All the songs in the show are some of the biggest pop hits from the last 20 years from super producer Max Martin, with songs such as ‘I want it that way’ by the Backstreet Boys. Shakespeare in the musical uses lyrics to argue his point as to why Romeo and Juliet ends with Juliet killing herself in an act of tragedy.
Growing up with these pop hits on the radio you tune out to the lyrics and listen to the catchy melody. It is not until you hear the lyrics of songs such as “Oops I did it again” by Britney Spears, as Juliet has another man propose to her after knowing him for a day, or “Larger than life” by the Backstreet Boys, which is used to introduce William Shakespeare with lyrics such as, ‘that makes you larger than life’ as William rises from beneath the stage to audiences singing he is ‘larger than life’.
The lyrics have been given a new lease of life as you hear them in a new context with the original lyrics, sung with more passion than ever before. I grew up with Martin’s greatest hits. Britney Spears and Backstreet Boys dominated the radio when I was in school. I spent my childhood listening to his music, so the thought of an entire musical dedicated to his hits I was invested in, but did not have high hopes. Thanks to Mamma Mia, we have low expectations when it comes to hearing our favourite hits in a musical.
Martin was heavily involved in the script and what songs could and could not be used. This ensured an emotional connection to the music and plot, and it did not make it sound like a jukebox musical that you got with Mamma Mia.
The plot is fun, as long as you do not take it too seriously and take it for what it is, a fun night. The musical is a modern-day feminist re-telling of life without Romeo, and how Juliet learns about herself, including a diverse cast of all nationalities, tackling issues such as feminism, racism, and sexuality.
Shakespeare is quite fond of his accomplishment at finishing Romeo and Juliet and loves the tragic ending he has written. Only for his wife to come along and disagree, having other ideas for how the play should end, with what if Juliet didn’t kill herself? But went on to live her life? This is where the show starts, with Juliet waking up, discovering Romeo has died, and having the knife taken away, for her to go away and discover who she is, taking Juliet on a soul searching, feminist road trip, along with her non-binary pals.
Aside from the tunes and the ridiculous story, huge performances and slick visuals are at the heart of this performance. Janson is a scream as Hathaway, who is bored with her husband disappearing to London to work, while she stays at home with the kids, Melanie La Barries is great fun as Juliet’s slightly cynical seen it all nurse, Tompsett is a self-regarding treat as Shakespeare, and spoiler alert, Jordan Luke Gage is almost absolutely ridiculous as Romeo, written back into the play by Shakespeare, in an attempt to have the show finish the way he intended. Miriam Teak Lee does a fabulous job of portraying an emotional Juliet, who feels as if someone forgot to write her Juliet an actual personality and a storyline.
It is silly and bright, but it is a fabulous foregrounding for female and queer characters, with a nod at Martin’s audience. The whole show will have you up and dancing, cheering and laughing. You will even spot the elderly gentleman who you may think won’t enjoy the performance, but they were all up in their seats dancing and cheering, enjoying the pyro techniques and confetti guns spraying glitter all over you throughout the night. The show is far more entertaining than a night at home, binge watching the Marvellous Mrs. Maisel, before the new season is released on Friday, with your housemates.