& Juliet at the Shaftesbury Theatre | Review

Show rating: ★★★★★
Accessibility rating: ★★★

What do you get when you mix together an album of chart topping hits written by Max Martin and the iconic romance of Romeo & Juliet? Well, in my eyes, a hit musical that is sure to leave you laughing and smiling, as well as checking your bank account to see when you can book again. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't hesitant before seeing one of the newest musicals on the block but every single nerve disappeared before the show even began. The set and staging enchanted me immediately and as more and more of the cast arrived on stage to set the scene, I knew I was in for a wonderful night. So, what is this larger than life musical all about?

I'm sure we all know the infamous love story that is Romeo & Juliet, as well as the fate that awaits the characters at the end of the play and I'm sure we can all agree that things don't end too well, particularly for Juliet. But, what if she didn't die? What if there was more to her story? These are the questions that this musicals asks and explores throughout the course of the show, where the audience watches as the story is rewritten right in front of them. If you're walking into this show thinking you can predict the new twists and turns, think again. I had my own ideas but my expectations were exceeded and I found myself revelling in the beauty of seeing a show and having no idea how the story ends.

You can expect to hear some of your favourite 90s and 00s hits re-imagined in a fresh way throughout again, not all of them are used as expected! The start of each song was met by a chuckle from the audience as they realised how cleverly they'd been used, with I Want It That Way really setting the tone of how these songs tell each characters story. I think some may be surprised to hear that Shakespeare and his wife Anne Hathaway play a large part in this story, given that Romeo & Juliet was written by the famous playwright, not performed by him, but the way they are woven into the narrative is genius. I love any show that recognises it has an audience sat in front of them and this show does it beautifully, it really is a masterclass on how to balance a show. I think there was potential for this to be quite a cheesy production, in a bad way, but that couldn't be further from the truth. Yes, there are cheesy moments but they are clever and self-aware, they add to the piece rather than taking away from it.

As for the cast, as soon as they were originally announced I think we all knew that this was going to be something special. There are big names from some of the most well loved shows on the West End, but not just familiar faces, this show is packed full of new talent and those making their West End debuts too. Everyone on stage is as good as the next, each bringing their own flair and personality to make this show the joyous celebration of musical theatre that it is. When Bat Out Of Hell closed at the start of 2019 I quickly began to realise that I really love dance heavy shows and nothing since has quite delivered on the level of dance Bat had, however, enter & Juliet. I was absolutely loving the dance breaks and how they showcase the incredible dance talent in this cast, for me it was just as impressive as the big vocal moments. The ensemble for this cast, in my opinion, are one of the strongest in the West End right now. The balance in this show between dancing, singing and acting is perfect, as well as the balance between the quieter moments and the louder moments being just as ideal. There really is no box left un-ticked.

Photos by Johan Persson 

If you've read my previous reviews you'll know I'm definitely an appreciator of a good set and stage and from photos of the first performance of & Juliet I just knew I wouldn't be disappointed. I adore revolves, when used well, and this is a show that really understands how a revolve can add to a production. I won't spoil everything but there is certainly more than meets the eye when it comes to their revolve though and I adored being surprised by their set again and again. As for highlights, seeing Jordan Luke Gage seemingly rise down from nowhere to make his big entrance is up there for me, as well as the staging and set used in 'Everybody'.

Miriam-Teak Lee shines as Juliet, I couldn't think of a better person to lead such an empowering show. Her vocal talent is out of this world and she just exudes confidence, truly she was destined to be a leading lady. Alongside her, for me it's Cassidy Janson as Anne Hathaway and Melanie La Barrie as Juliet's nurse who steal the show. Both of them get some of the biggest laughs, with Cassidy truly shining as Anne, who fights to get Juliet the story she deserves. Melanie is just a true light, she looks like she is having a ball on stage and as always, that transfers into the audience. Her and David Bedella's (who plays Lance) performance of Teenage Dream/Break Free is one that I am just itching to see again. Total joy!

Oliver Tompsett makes the perfect Shakespeare, he matches Cassidy's fire perfectly and they bounce off each other with such ease that you'd almost believe that they are married in real life! I have to give special mention to Tim Mahendran and Arun Blair-Mangat who delivered on the beautiful LGBT+ story I was hoping for from this musical, they tackled themes such as coming out, gender and sexuality so sensitively, it was some much needed representation. Of course as I've already mentioned Jordan Luke Gage's entrance as Romeo was quite something and his vocals are out of this world, I adored him in Bat Out Of Hell and it's wonderful to see him back on a West End stage, proving why he's one of the best young talents around.

I think the West End might have just found it's next big thing, I hope & Juliet receives the reception and long life it deserves. It's a guaranteed fun night out and a treat for musical theatre fans with performances from some of the best talent we have. All I can say is, buy your tickets, you won't regret it!

As for the access, this was my first visit to the Shaftesbury Theatre so I was a little apprehensive, although my excitement of the show soon took over. Whilst the information on their website about accessibility is fairly detailed, there were a few surprises that are worth noting.

Those requiring step free access can enter the box office/foyer area to pick up tickets and buy merchandise, but from there to access the step free seats in the Royal Circle patrons have to exit the theatre and re-enter via a side entrance. From here I was able to enter the second part of the foyer, where there is a bar. Now, this is where things got interesting. The website says boxes F and E (I was in box F) are accessible via ramp for wheelchair users, in my mind I was imagining something similar to the kind of size and steepness of train ramps, how wrong I was. There are in fact 2 sets of stairs that must be negotiated to be able to reach the box I was in. I wish I had taken photos and counted the stairs but I was so focused on getting up and down them safely that I didn't think to. They are steep, very very steep. Going down wasn't so bad but going up was daunting.

Photos by Shona Louise

On the first ramp I needed a shove to get some momentum and on the second I felt like I was tipping back and I think my front wheels came up slightly at the top. I can't fault the staff during all of this though, I reached out to grab one of their hands on the way up and they did so willingly. We took things slowly and they did everything they could to ensure my safety. I think if you're a manual wheelchair user this wouldn't be so bad, I believe staff are able to push you up and help you down but electric wheelchair users should be wary. I have a powerful mid-wheel drive powerchair, but I'd be concerned for those with smaller powerchairs or rear wheel drive powerchairs. Thankfully the theatre seems to have plans to install a lift to allow access to the stalls but this is likely years down the line so this is certainly something to be wary of and I'll be sure to take photos and add them to this post/tweet them when I next visit.

There is a spacious and modern standard accessible toilet however, this is at the top of the stairs. It quickly became apparent to me that using the toilet during the interval could potentially be an issue. The ramps take a long time to put down and they have to stop the flow of foot traffic to do so, which means 20 minutes potentially just wouldn't be long enough to do all of that to enable access to the toilet. I was very glad I had gone before the show and hadn't drank a lot! This is certainly an issue though and something I will have to be aware of for future visits when drinking any liquids. It also means at the end of the show I had to wait quite a while for the theatre to empty so they could place the ramps down.

The view from Box F

As I said though, the staff were sensational and couldn't have been more helpful. They understand the access isn't ideal and that the ramps are quite frankly terrifying and they do everything they can to ease any concerns. I felt like I was in safe hands! As for the view from Box F, I have no complaints! It's sold as a restricted view but I can't think of a single moment where I missed any action, the only restricted view I'd say is set that is cut off from view, but nothing in terms of the action on stage. I imagine the view from Box E, situated further towards the stage would be more restricted though. I did especially enjoy how close to the stage the box was! My only grumble is the ticket price, even after being discounted to access rate, with booking fees my ticket was about £40. I'm aware in the grand scheme of things this is cheap for the West End but for an access rate it's not. It's frustrating that friends can day seat for around £20, something that just isn't accessible to me. This is a show I could watch again and again but the price and lack of options will be a barrier for me.

More information about access at the Shaftesbury Theatre, including information about captioned, BSL interpreted and audio described performances, can be found on their website. & Juliet is booking until May 2020.

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