It’s the Easter holidays and for once I’m extremely organised, arriving with my excited 12-year-old daughter at the theatre very early. Yet die-hard fans of & Juliet, the smash hit which this week welcomed three exciting new cast members, were already waiting outside, some dressed in befitting hot pink hues to celebrate their no doubt multiple viewing.
The premise is a rewrite of Romeo and Juliet, the sliding door scenario being that Juliet doesn’t die (sorry for that spoiler but the play is over 400 years old) and a new life path is laid out for her; to get over her four day relationship with Romeo and possibly find new love, but certainly to thrive without him. This whole new plot is prompted by William Shakespeare’s wife, the original Anne Hathaway, played with unequivocal steely determination by Cassidy Janson. She wants to empower Juliet and she and William set forth to rewrite the play together, navigating some serious differences of opinion.
Based on the book by David West Read (Netflix’s Schitts Creek) and jam packed to the gills with epic pop hits from Swedish songwriter Max Martin, the show has been running since it opened to critical acclaim back in 2019. In its first year it was nominated for numerous Oliviers and had 3 wins; including current cast members Miriam Teak-Lee who magnificently plays Juliet and with so much style and sublime vocals, that you feel like Juliet is at a stint at the 02. With an equally mighty voice and an abundance of charm,Janson also won that year.
The new cast members comprise of Tom Francis who has an incredible rock voice and so much spot-on comic skills as the original Romeo. Julius D’Silva now plays Lance and has the audience in fits of laughter, while the inimitable Keala Settle makes up the trio of new members. How they have only appeared on stage as these ridiculously well-crafted characters for just over a week is mind-boggling. They all have perfect comic timing, are oozing stage presence and their voices are phenomenal. I’m a huge fan of Settle and she does not disappoint; an expert comic and of course a powerhouse with *that* voice which many of us have known and loved from The Greatest Showman. Settle will, I’m sure, be a huge draw for theatre goers and rightly so.
Of course, it is a juke box musical. It’s not subtle in any way. It’s always going to be more impressive if the songs have been specifically crafted as part of the writing process. Nevertheless it still has a satisfying balance, with the unquestionable pop hits cleverly woven in to the narrative. That said, there is an audible chuckle at the first line of every song from much of the audience as such well known songs are recognised.
An award-winning creative team have brought the show to life including musical director Luke Sheppard (In the Heights, Rent), thrilling choreography by Jennifer Weber and the beautiful, somehow modern set, filled with vitality by designer Soutra Gilmour.
There’s so much talent on this stage and the ball is never dropped, not once. It’s a show with boundless energy. In fact it’s an absolutely unrelenting joyride of fun. Once you get your head around the format and the curious recognition of a massive song that you feel is going to be shoe-horned in, but it just works, I defy even the most musical-allergic amongst you to not enjoy this feel-good night at the theatre. A modern, sometimes tear-jerking celebration of representation, empowerment & inclusivity. My daughter’s verdict: she absolutely loved it and even bought the t-shirt!
Music By: Max Martin
Book By: David West Read
Directed By: Luke Sheppard
Produced By: Max Martin, Tim Headington and Theresa Steele
& Juliet plays at Shaftesbury Theatre. Bookings are currently availble up to 15 December here.