Royal’s Romeo And Juliet 2011 – Sergei Polunin
Royal’s Romeo And Juliet 2011

Royal’s Romeo And Juliet 2011

12,000 pack in to see Royal Ballet’s Romeo and Juliet debut at the O2

Royal’s Romeo and Juliet at London’s O2 arena was a gamble that paid off, finds Louise Levene.

royals romeo
Royal Ballet’s Romeo and Juliet at the O2: Tamara Rojo and Carlos Acosta, Photo: ROH

Covent Garden it ain’t. The crowd is six times the size and a good half of them of them will be munching hot dogs throughout.  However, the Royal Ballet’s debut run at London’s O2 this weekend is a great success nonetheless.

The company’s bold experiment has brought high art at low prices to a whole new demographic, winning thousands of friends (and political brownie points) in the process.

Rock and Romeo

The old Millennium Dome’s hangar-like interior has meant rethinking the presentation.  Kenneth MacMillan’s 1965 Romeo and Juliet took on brash, rock concert-like lines.

No pit meant putting Barry Wordsworth and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in a narrow glass box above the stage. Their playing has been subtly amplified. Prokofiev’s thundering score floods the great barn of the O2.

Above the orchestra are three huge screens. They highlight important entrances and reaction shots that might easily be missed by a spectator two football pitches away.

The six cameras are coordinated by a nerve centre of screens and headsets in the stalls.  The show is directed by ex-Royal Ballet stars Michael Nunn and William Trevitt.

These one-time Romeos know precisely which moments need to be reinforced but even their best efforts are not always enough. The Royal Ballet has (rather touchingly) assumed that Romeo and Juliet is too well known to need telling.  But, while it is flattering not to be spoon-fed or patronised, I’m not sure the 12,000-strong audience was fully up to speed with characters or plot.

There are two chunks of Shakespearean voice-over but a few surtitles wouldn’t go amiss.  Particularly given that the only synopsis was inside a souvenir programme costing £10 (as much as many of the tickets).

Magic but confusing

The pas de deux worked their usual magic but crowd scenes were confusing. If the experiment is repeated – and I don’t see why not – it might also be an idea to colour code the characters more obviously: black for Tybalt; white for Romeo etc – that or put numbers on their backs.

In interviews before this expertly-hyped event the Royal Ballet’s stars had fretted that their close-ups might seem hammy and exaggerated.  These fears have proved groundless.

The playing was lusty and vivid but none of Friday night’s cast overacted.  Zooming in on the action merely reveals the detail that any balletomane with binoculars has long been aware of.

Rojo and Acosta

Friday night’s cast was led by Tamara Rojo and Cuban superstar Carlos Acosta, who was on superb form (not always the case this late in his 20-year career).

There were traces of the old fire in the great arcing leaps and every lift was a caress. Rojo’s dark expressive eyes were made for the big screen.  The intensity of her acting and the musical sweep of her dancing soon made you forget the venue and concentrate on the art inside it.

And, then there’s Polunin…

Thiago Soares made a dashing and dastardly Tybalt.  The 21 year old Sergei Polunin (doubling as Benvolio and lead Mandolin dancer in a last-minute casting crisis) was the best (and handsomest) dancer on stage.

The gilding and plush of Covent Garden has always been a major part of the Royal Ballet’s appeal but bigger, cheaper, less glamorous venues attract new audiences – the holy grail of every arts establishment.

English National Ballet’s conquest of the Royal Albert Hall proved that widening access needn’t compromise quality and the Royal Ballet was right to join the party.

This month’s O2 project has been the brainchild of the company’s 45-year-old administrative director Kevin O’Hare who has just been anointed as Dame Monica Mason’s successor. Not a bad start.

The final performance is today at 3pm: O2 Box Office 0844 856 0202 or online at

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