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Matthew Bourne’s Romeo and Juliet review – the thrilling shock of the new

Sadler’s Wells, London
Bourne and his superb dancers inject visceral new life into Shakespeare’s overworked tragedy

You’ve got to hand it to Matthew Bourne, choreographer extraordinaire. When most people sit down and think of Romeo and Juliet, images of warring families spring to mind. They might be in Shakespeare’s traditional version, or Kenneth MacMillan’s ballet, or Baz Luhrmann and Franco Zeffirelli’s films. Even if they’re living in a dystopia such as Mats Ek’s Romeo & Juliet or in the tougher boroughs of New York in West Side Story, the essential lineaments of the story of young lovers kept apart by the forces of society around them will remain the same.

The wrenching shock of Bourne’s new version, set in the white-tiled Verona Institute, where groups of young people are drilled and drugged into conformist submission, is how huge a leap of imagination he has made. Just as Terry Davies’s reconfiguring of Prokofiev’s score makes the familiar sound strange and edgy, Bourne’s approach lets an overworked story take on a different life.

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