Theatre review - & Juliet, Manchester Opera House

Miriam-Teak Lee as Juliet, in & Juliet
Photo: Johan Persson

Miriam-Teak Lee as Juliet, in & Juliet Photo: Johan Persson - Credit: Archant

& Juliet is a brilliant, bold new musical written with humour and wit, and delivers a simply outstanding night out

Cassidy Janson as Anne Hathaway, in & Juliet
Photo: Johan Persson

Cassidy Janson as Anne Hathaway, in & Juliet Photo: Johan Persson - Credit: Archant

The roof came off at Opera House Manchester last night, as the audience cheered and applauded the outstanding cast of brilliant new musical, & Juliet.

The starting place for this new show was the hits of songwriter Max Martin and it can be cause for concern when a musical is devised to re-wrap and re-gift a back catalogue of music by a single artist or songwriter, but this one pulls it off in grand style - even the shoe-horned number! (More on which later)

The show starts with the cast of William Shakespeare's brand new play, Romeo & Juliet, gathering on stage to hear how he envisages the ending. Enter stage left, Shakespeare's wife, Anne Hathaway. She's thrilled to be having a night out, no kids, large glass of wine in the offing. Will details his tragic ending and the cast is…seriously underwhelmed. At this point, everything takes a fantastical turn, as Anne takes control of the quill and demands to re-write the finish, allowing Juliet to live on, reject the notion of dying for her lover, refuse to enter a nunnery and run away to Paris. Anne's version is all about the girl, as she says: "Romeo can still die, that's fine."

From the moment Anne enters the stage, the scene is set for the fun and wit those who know Shakespeare's plays are familiar with, but brought into sharp 21st century focus, with clever writing and direction giving it a very current feel. Anne Hathaway, brilliantly played by outrageously talented Cassidy Janson, displays the sort of kick-ass attitude we could all wish for our daughters. Her version of Juliet is strong, capable, confident and ready to take on the world. Supported by her friend May and ever-faithful Nurse - and joined by Anne, in disguise as new friend April (cue April, May and Juli-et gag) - she runs away to Paris.

Oliver Tompsett as Will Shakespeare, in & Juliet at Manchester Opera House
Photo: Johan Persson

Oliver Tompsett as Will Shakespeare, in & Juliet at Manchester Opera House Photo: Johan Persson - Credit: Archant

The four escapees' adventures are supported by a string of songs from prolific writer Max Martin, who has scored 22 number one hits for performers as wide-ranging as Bon Jovi and Katy Perry, taking in Celine Dion, Britney Spears and Pink on the way. I have a vision of a team of writers gathered around a table, wondering how to fit iconic Backstreet Boys hit, 'Everybody' into the show, and coming up with the most fabulous solution, one that has the room roaring with approval.

Miriam Teak Lee, in the role of Juliet, demonstrates the most fabulous and powerful voice you could wish to hear on stage. From her first song, a dark rendition of Britney Spears' '…Baby One More Time' to her closing number, a mind-blowingly glorious 'Roar' (Katy Perry) that lifts and lifts and lifts the audience, she leaves her audience wide-eyed and breathless.

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Indeed, this is a cast packed with talent - Oliver Tompsett (Shakespeare) is excellent; Melanie La Barrie (Nurse) has both perfect comedic delivery and a fabulous voice - her delivery of Pink's 'Fuckin' Perfect' was awesome; and David Bedella (Lance) is wonderful in the role of the strutting French Lord who meets his long-lost love and seduces her with intent to marry. The fact that this long lost love is Juliet's Nurse is another brilliant Shakespearian twist that just adds to the deliciousness of the whole experience.

Shakespeare himself is celebrated throughout, with the writers of this show demonstrating a clear respect and love for his work. They also point out some of history's mysteries - he died, leaving his wife his second best bed, having resided in London, alone, for most of their marriage. It was clearly not a happy one - as Anne points out, he details not one single happy marriage in all of his plays. This new, Anne-driven, version of Romeo & Juliet has been translated from tragedy to romance though, so a happy ending is guaranteed, with all those seeking a lover or a spouse paired off accordingly, even Will and Anne.

I have a feeling that this is a show that will run and run - book your tickets now.

& Juliet runs to 12th October, at Opera House Manchester: