From now on any future Shakespeares have to be liberally doused with Britney Spears before I venture into a theatre showing The Bard’s plays, writes Michael Holland.
Having experienced ‘& Juliet’, the hi-energy musical that continues the Romeo & Juliet story from where Shakespeare left off, has given me new hope of William’s work as long as music meister Max Martin is involved to sprinkle it with his pop-song magic.
Anne Hathaway tells her husband that she does not like the ending of Romeo & Juliet and that she wants him to change it and ‘give Juliet more of a voice’. Will is, of course, reluctant to part with his quill. Until Anne then points out that there are no happy marriages in his plays and wonders if he is merely portraying their own strained relationship for the amusement of his audience, which puts him on the back foot. He succumbs but still wants to write the play his way. Cue the Backstreet Boys’ song, I Want It That Way.
Henceforth, the show switches between the new version of R&J and the travails of Mr & Mrs Shakespeare’s personal life – Which is hilarious because Cassidy Janson (Hathaway) has a real feel for comedy.
Juliet attends her beloved Romeo’s funeral only to find a multitude of grieving women and men dripping tears on the tomb! A trip to Paris to forget Romeo and move on with her life seems to be in order. Here she meets Francois de Bois and within a day they are planning a wedding. Quick, but not much better than the four days she knew Romeo, and we all know how that ended… Britney’s ‘Oops! I Did It Again’ kicks in: Oh, Baby, Baby, I made you believe we’re more than just friends. There is, however, a problem: Francois is gay and in love with a boy, and Anne Hathaway is not happy with this turn of events because she wanted Juliet to grow, experience life, and not make the same mistake twice.
So, while the unhappy couple are sorting out that little Tempest in a teacup, William brings back Romeo from the dead and upsets all the wedding plans. Plus, Romeo now has to answer for all the cheating and lying he did in a previous life.
Yes, David West Read’s script has taken a liberty with Shakespeare’s work but not to mock but to pay homage. Yes, it is funny, but it is fun.
Each well-known song was greeted with applause as soon as the crowd heard the opening lyrics. Those who knew them would be mouthing the words, eyes wide open at the spectacle of colour and sound on the stage.
& Juliet also pays homage to the great pop songs that Max Martin has been part of and which lift the tragedy of the star-crossed lovers into a world where everyone gets their happy ending. And on that journey we enjoy great songs, brilliant choreography, superb singing, the joy of seeing Romeo’s grin-making entrance and Juliet’s raised-platform finale where we knew she had finally found happiness and collectively welled up.
And that happiness crept throughout the whole audience like a rolling mist on the mountain tops. The couple next to me exuded an aura of pride as they cheered and clapped and whooped every time Juliet ended a song because that couple was the proud parents of the star, Miriam-Teak Lee. And it was they who took the plaudits after the cast had finished their final bows as we all crowded round to say how great she was.
Shaftesbury Theatre, 210 Shaftesbury Avenue, WC2H 8DP until June 25th 2022. Times: 7.30pm; matinees 2.30pm. Admission: £22.50 – £99.50.
Photos: Johan Persson