The Royal Ballet’s Romeo & Juliet Broadcast Live to Cinemas

Showing stage productions live in cinemas has become very common over the last two or three years yet until now I’ve never gone along to one. This is partly because I manage to see a fair amount of theatre anyway and had thought it just wouldn’t be the same. I had once intended to go along to a screening of Danny Boyle’s Frankenstein in which Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller alternated the roles of Victor and the monster. I’d watched it in person with Cumberbatch as the scientist and was curious to see it the other way round but it just didn’t happen. This was largely due, I’m sure, to my general apathy about the whole notion of projecting plays in movie houses. Having now been to one of these screenings though my attitude has changed completely. This week I went along to the Curzon in Richmond where I saw the opening night of The Royal Ballet’s new staging of Macmillan and Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet. It was one of the most breathtaking experiences I have had in a cinema all year.  

Certainly I didn’t get the same experience as if I’d been at the Royal Opera House where it played but actually I can see now that this isn’t a problem. When you view shows this way, you gain as much as you lose. First off the acts were interspersed with live and prerecorded interviews, rehearsal footage and analysis of the choreography. It was like getting the DVD extras along with the film and the Opera House audience clearly got none of this. A lot of the material is on line now but seeing it alongside the performance genuinely enhanced the viewing experience, leading me to appreciate the ballet in a way I wouldn’t have done otherwise. It made me look out for subtleties in the pas de deux that I don’t mind admitting would normally have passed me by.

More importantly though, the way ballet was shot and on the spot edited was excellent. I hadn’t thought about it much but I guess I’d pictured the whole thing being captured in long shot. This was not the case at all though and the close ups drew you in to the story, bringing the show alive in a way that would just not be possible for anyone sitting past the third row. The camera work was clearly rehearsed as much as the dancing and they knew precisely when to pan, pull and zoom for maximum effect.

It is possible that all of these elements do not come together quite so successfully with other screenings. This was clearly a big one, going out in 879 cinemas across the world alongside a number of outdoor projections in major cities. There is no denying though that, on this occasion at least, it really really worked on the big screen. 

Instrumental to this was the incredible performance of prima ballerina Sarah Lamb. Clearly she can dance, no surprises there, and in this respect was an unbridled joy to watch. What I didn’t see coming though is that this lady can properly emote. On several occasions the camera lingered on her face and she was more than equal to it. In the early scenes she was beguiling; convincingly displaying the flirty but tentative glances of a new and young love. Then in act three, when her new husband had killed her cousin and she was being force to marry someone else (spoilers) she seemed to suddenly age with heartbreak and despair. It was all immensely powerful and if there was ever a suggestion that the acting in ballet takes a back seat to the movement then Lamb and her director have disproven this in spectacular fashion.

The other main performers were excellent too. While we might have seen considerably more woe in Juliet than her Romeo, lead male Steven McRae was also superb. He was great against Lamb but also entertained immensely in his balletic bantering with Alexander Cambell’s Mercutio and Tristan Dyer’s Benvolio. If you look at it closely, as this type of screening allows, you see that there is a lot of similarity between the wordless interplay in ballet and the expressive acting in silent cinema. Clearly some of the complexities of Shakespeare’s plotting was lost, it is not clear why Juliet revived after her first dose of poison, but there was no mistaking the sentiments. Mercutio, for example, at the end of his prolonged but effecting death scene, was clearly placing a curse on both their houses, there was no mistaking that. Speaking of Mercutio’s demise, the swordplay also excelled. It genuinely looked like these guys were trying to kill one another yet their weapons clashed in time to the music, like lethal percussion instruments.

Of course the only way to see this show now is to go to the Royal Opera House where tickets are between £10 and £130. I would recommend you do and I am thinking about it myself but if that isn’t feasible then look out for other productions being broadcast on screen. I now think they are great. This one was a brilliant presentation of a fantastic show and I’m thrilled and privileged to have seen it.

For details of other live screening follow the links below:

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