As the roiling passions of MacMillan’s Romeo & Juliet play out on the Royal Opera House’s main stage, Ben Duke’s Lost Dog company presented a very different take on the iconic love story down in the Linbury. What if the star cross’d lovers hadn’t died, but had run away, got married, had a child, reached middle age and hit a relationship crisis? What if the extraordinary had, in effect, become utterly ordinary? The answer, in this touching, funny, clever piece of devised dance-theatre, is something quietly heartbreaking.
After 20 years of marriage, Juliet (Solène Weinachter) tells us, the magic has gone; all manner of therapies have failed to help, so she and Romeo (Duke) plan to relive some of their memories in front of us as a way to try to understand the present (“We tried without an audience and it didn’t work,” she reveals).
The problems are evident from the start – Romeo remembers gatecrashing Juliet’s parents’ fancy dress party (in a Darth Vader costume) and spotting her dressed as a chicken. “I was a phoenix,” she protests. His memory is of raunching up to her as I Want You by the Beatles played – she remembers him gliding her way to the strains of Cat Power.
She’s convinced that when he found her insensate in the tomb he picked her up and danced with her; their attempt to recreate this, as Des’ree’s Kissing You from Romeo + Juliet plays, are a skilful bit of slapstick disaster. But worse is to come. Romeo can’t access his emotions, Juliet insists. In fact what we learn is that Romeo can’t share his emotions with Juliet, because the truth would break her heart. She has bought into the myth that the playwright Shakespeare made of their tale (after much tinkering with it). “My life was supposed to be exceptional,” she wails – reality, and the real Romeo, are not enough. And Romeo’s regrets about being enmeshed in this fantasy finally form into a climax all the more devastating for its rueful quotidian nature.
Duke and Weinachter make canny use of dance and movement throughout the piece, injecting lust, desperation and emotional distress into duets and solos that vividly express the characters’ inner worlds. They work up an engaging sense of intimacy, and also have great physical (and verbal) comic timing. At just 80 minutes, it’s a beautifully formed little show – and deserves to be a hit when it travels to the Edinburgh Festival this summer.