Over the years, Shakespeare’s tale of star-crossed lovers has seen countless adaptations for stage and screen. Northern Ballet leaves you in no doubt as to why the story lends itself so well to dance.

Of course, when it comes to Romeo & Juliet, there’s a certain reliance on the average viewer’s familiarity with the plot of this timeless tragedy (‘for never was a story of more woe’). We know that Romeo and Juliet fall hopelessly in love, we know that their warring families stand in the way of them being together, and we know that their attempt to escape fate is doomed. Northern Ballet’s achievement is in making the audience feel that this is their first experience of the drama – the raw violence, the lyrical tenderness, the stinging grief.

This touring production was devised in 1991 by Christopher Gable and Massimo Moricone but the sets and costumes of Lez Brotherston were lost in a flood in 2015, so this production is something of a revival. It certainly feels vital. From the Dance of the Knights through to the denouement in the crypt, I was rapt.

Dominique Larose in Romeo & Juliet. Photo Emily Nuttall.

Captivating performances from Abigail Prudames as Juliet and Joseph Taylor as Romeo are supported by a company of exceptional dancers. Lady Capulet, played by Amber Lewis, is a truly commanding, icy presence, at least until Tybault’s death when we are completely drawn in by her grief. Harris Beattie steals the show as Mercutio – a gift of a role, of course – but I saw Beattie as George in Northern Ballet’s Great Gatsby last year (again, stole the show) and honestly think there’s nothing he can’t do. Someone build a production around him, please. Meanwhile, Heather Lian gives a great comic turn as the nurse.

However, I feel disappointed that there’s still so far to go in the ballet world in terms of size representation. Wouldn’t it be great to see a plus-size dancer in a plus-size role instead of a dancer draped in padding? The nurse is the subject of a fair bit of boob-humour too, which elicited laughs from the audience but seemed jarring to me. The nurse is pawed a lot. At one point she even gets a full-on motorboat which was at odds with the overall tone.

That said, this ballet is magnificent and I urge you to see it, preferably by the summer which will mark the final live accompaniment from Northern Ballet Sinfonia. Thanks to budget cuts, the company can no longer afford live music. This is incredibly sad. If you’ve ever seen a ballet accompanied by a recorded soundtrack, you’ll know what a difference live music makes.

Before the show, I spoke to orchestra leader Geoffrey Allen, who was handing out leaflets for the ‘Keep Northern Ballet Live’ campaign. He explained that a major sponsor had to withdraw following Brexit, and that real terms funding cuts have resulted in Northern Ballet scheduling less touring work. Now, they face having no live music. These musicians have dedicated their lives to becoming top performers in their incredibly competitive field and yet some of them now rely on foodbanks to survive. If you value the arts, sign their petition. And experience Northern Ballet Sinfonia’s soaring performance of Prokofiev’s score while you still can by booking tickets here.

By Amy Stone

Photography by Emily Nuttall

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Romeo & Juliet is at Sheffield Lyceum until April 6, 2024. For more information, click here