United Kingdom Juliet and Romeo – A Guide to Long Life and Happy Marriage: Lost Dog, Battersea Arts Centre, London, 15.2.2018. (JO’D)
Devised and performed by Ben Duke and Solène Weinachter
Conceived by Ben Duke
Artistic collaborator: Raquel Meseguer
Lighting design: Jackie Shemesh
Set and costume design: James Perkins
After finding inspiration for previous work in a short story by Virginia Woolf, Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’ and Nijinsky’s ‘The Rite of Spring’ (for Rambert), Lost Dog co-founder Ben Duke bases the company’s latest dance-theatre piece ‘loosely’ on Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’. The title is ironic. The Juliet and Romeo who introduce themselves in the cramped flat they share with their (unseen) daughter, Sophie, appeal to the audience as to a marriage guidance counsellor. Romeo is having problems ‘in the bedroom’; Juliet thinks she might have been better off married to Paris, the son-in-law her parents wanted.
As part of the counselling process both act out, in a more comic vein at first, memories of significant moments in their relationship. Shakespeare, it turns out, was just someone to whom they told their story during what Romeo refers to as a night of ‘oversharing’. Juliet liked the dramatised version of events that the playwright later sent them. Romeo and the audience know, as she does not, that one key element in the play’s Act V tomb scene is false. He keeps this knowledge from Juliet, as she keeps a secret of her own from him (but not from the audience), until the end of the piece.
In Like Rabbits (2014), based on the Virginia Woolf story ‘Lappin and Lapinova’, drama-, dance- and literature-trained Ben Duke collaborated with the writer Lucy Kirkwood to blend movement and text in a memorable depiction of a couple’s relationship. Juliet and Romeo might be an attempt to repeat that format. Here, too, the female partner wants to re-enact a fantasy, or game (in this case the tomb scene), of which the male partner tires. But while a short story about people thinking of themselves as rabbits, or hares, lent itself well to dance-theatre, some of the duets and solo sequences in this piece seem added on to the narrative rather than essential to it.
Like Michael Keegan-Dolan’s Swan Lake/Loch na hEala (2016), which recently returned to Sadler’s Wells, Juliet and Romeo works best when closest to its source. The words from Shakespeare it uses sound new. Both Ben Duke and Solène Weinachter know how to deliver them. ‘It was the nightingale, and not the lark’ is a particularly moving, borrowed line. When the attention shifts to the responsibilities and tribulations of parenthood, as it did during Ben Duke’s one-man show, Paradise Lost (lies unopen beside me) (2015), the piece is in danger of becoming banal. Basically, it is when they are quoting from Shakespeare that we care about these people most.
Press night nerves might have explained the occasional fluffed line. One feels sure that the piece will strengthen as it continues its run at Battersea Arts Centre and then at The Place. It may have been because the performers were keeping something back that Juliet and Romeo’s mutual revelation of secrets lacked dramatic force. Even so, Juliet and Romeo already ends on a sad and haunting note: Solène Weinachter, strikingly lit by Jackie Shemesh, lip-syncs to Cat Power’s ‘Wild is the Wind’ and then, to almost eerie effect, stops lip-syncing as the recording goes on.
Juliet and Romeo – A Guide to Long Life and Happy Marriage is at Battersea Arts Centre until 24 February and at The Place from 27 February to 3 March. For more information click here.