What if Juliet didn’t marry at 13 and then kill herself over a boy she’d met just days before? What if Romeo turned out to be a himbo with side chicks (and dudes) coming out the woodwork after his burial? What if Shakespeare put his quill down and let his wife take over the script? & Juliet is a musical that traces the alternate life of the star-crossed lovers with Juliet as the main event.
& Juliet: Review**
In true Shakespearean style, it cleverly interweaves two narratives — the relationship between playwright Will and his wife Anne Hathaway (not the Hollywood actress) and the ‘play within the play’ about Juliet and her Romeo. Except in the hands of Anne, the story becomes a feminist reworking as she tries to give Juliet the agency she seeks in her own life. Meanwhile Will’s not giving up his drama quite that easily, so the classic tragi-rom enjoys plenty of twists.
A Topnotch Cast
The cast is excellent throughout. We meet Juliet’s best mate May (the gorgeous Alex Thomas-Smith) who’s on their own journey of self-discovery and shy prince Francois DuBois (Tim Mahendran) who gets caught in a love triangle. Possibly the best scene is a reunion between Juliet’s Nurse (Melanie La Barrie) and papa DuBois (David Bedella), hilariously played out to the strains of Katy Perry’s Teenage Dream.
The beating heart of this story is its soundtrack, a mishmash of ‘90s and noughties pop classics by original songwriter Max Martin. If you’ve ever wondered how tunes by Britney or the Backstreet Boys could work in a Shakespearean setting — trust me, it’s musical gold. I thought it might be super cheesy and of course there’s an element of cheddar. But what struck me anew was how powerful and emotive some of these pop ballads are beyond the catchy hooks.
Humour with Heart
Full credit goes to the actors, particularly Cassidy Janson as Anne Hathaway and the truly stunning lead Miriam Teak Lee, who won 2020 Laurence Olivier Awards for their roles along with David Bedella. The concept and creation for & Juliet comes from David West Read who is one of the creators of the brilliant comedy series Schitts Creek. I’m still bereft that Schitts Creek is over so it was wonderful to experience Read’s characteristic humour with heart pulsing throughout & Juliet.
After a long and painful pandemic, the reopening of & Juliet brings a burst of colour and joy to London’s West End. It’s brimming with female and LGBTQ+ empowerment and yet doesn’t hammer its themes over the sheer exuberance of the plot, staging and performances. My girlfriends and I had an absolute blast and felt like we’d just stepped out of a music video. We’d watch it again in a minute and I urge you to grab your favourite mate/ally/disco partner and go see it too.
& Juliet is playing at Shaftesbury Theatre, 210 Shaftesbury Avenue, London WC2H 8DP (Holborn/Tottenham Court Rd tube, Charing Cross tube/rail). Recommended for ages 12+, kids ages 6+ admitted. Shows on Mon-Sat at 7.30pm & matinees Fri-Sat at 2.30pm (check Christmas schedule on website); tickets from £22.50-£99.50. (until Jun 2022)
**As a member of the press, I was offered comp tickets to review the show. All opinions are strictly my own.