MusicWeb International One of the most grown-up review sites around 2024
60,000 reviews
... and still writing ...

Search MusicWeb Here Acte Prealable Polish CDs

Presto Music CD retailer
Founder: Len Mullenger                                    Editor in Chief:John Quinn             

Some items
to consider

new MWI
Current reviews

old MWI
pre-2023 reviews

paid for

Acte Prealable Polish recordings

Forgotten Recordings
Forgotten Recordings
All Forgotten Records Reviews

Troubadisc Weinberg- TROCD01450

All Troubadisc reviews

FOGHORN Classics

Brahms String Quartets

All Foghorn Reviews

All HDTT reviews

Songs to Harp from
the Old and New World

all Nimbus reviews

all tudor reviews

Follow us on Twitter

Editorial Board
MusicWeb International
Founding Editor
Rob Barnett
Editor in Chief
John Quinn
Contributing Editor
Ralph Moore
   David Barker
Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb Founder
   Len Mullenger

Support us financially by purchasing from

Matthew Bourne’s Romeo and Juliet
Ballet in three acts, based on the tragedy by William Shakespeare [91 mins]
Music by Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953)
Juliet – Cordelia Braithwaite
Romeo – Paris Fitzpatrick
Tybalt – Dan Wright
Mercutio – Ben Brown
Balthasar – Jackson Fisch
Benvolio – Harrison Dowzell
Frenchie – Hannah Mason
Rev. Bernadette Laurence, Mrs Montague & Nurse – Daisy May Kemp
Senator Montague, Guard & Orderly – Matt Petty
The New Adventures Company & Orchestra/Brett Morris
Choreographed and directed by Matthew Bourne
Lez Brotherston (Set design & Costume Design); Paule Constable (lighting design); Paul Groothuis (Sound design); Terry Davies (Orchestrations)
Film directed by Ross MacGibbon and produced by Lucie Conrad
Bonus film within the Extras [30 mins] with English subtitles for the hard of hearing
rec. no information given
Picture: HD 1080p – 16.9 – All Regions
Sound: no technical information given
No booklet included
ILLUMINATIONS Blu-ray MBR2098 [121 mins]

Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures website states that he is widely hailed as the UK’s most popular and successful choreographer and director. For many years now, Bourne has been creating and directing dance for musicals, theatre and film, as well as for his own successful, award-winning companies. The site also states that for over thirty years he and New Adventures have delighted, inspired and nurtured people of all ages and backgrounds. It is all true, however, whether his work reflects the high quality implied by his success is debatable. I have enjoyed a few of Matthew Bourne’s works but wouldn’t say I am one of his biggest fans. I don’t know all of his work but greatly admire some of it, especially his take on the classics – as for e.g. Swan Lake, The Nutcracker or Highland Fling (La Sylphide). All three excellent and very imaginative. I found his adaptation of Bizet’s Carmen – The Car Man – original and innovative though I must admit I didn’t like it much. I intensely disliked his Dorian Gray. It showed how difficult it was to do justice to a novel like The Picture of Dorian Gray and to an author of the calibre of Oscar Wilde. I quite enjoyed Bourne’s Red Shoes, based on Powell’s and Pressburger’s film of the same name from 1948, which I watched live at Sadler’s Wells on 18th January 2020, shortly before the pandemic sadly started. So far, from the pieces I know, I think that Bourne’s best, most original work is still the one that made him famous – his take on Swan Lake with male swans rather than female.

Romeo and Juliet is possibly one of the most produced and performed ballets of all times. Almost every company has it in their repertoire and there are many versions – some better than others, some outstanding and others rather forgettable. Personally, I favour Kenneth MacMillan’s 1965 choreography, still performed today by the Royal Ballet, as well as the versions created in Germany by John Cranko for the Stuttgart Ballet in 1962 and John Neumeier’s for Frankfurt in 1971. With all this famous ‘baggage’ attached to a ballet that has been performed and staged countless times, Matthew Bourne’s task wasn’t an easy one. But he does succeed in creating a completely different, distinctive Romeo and Juliet.

Prokofiev’s music for Romeo and Juliet is possibly one of his best known scores and arguably one of his most beautiful. For Bourne’s production, it had to be shortened and many parts are not used. In an interview in this disc’s bonus film, Bourne states that their orchestra is not full-sized thus the score needed to be adapted for them. Additionally, the story and concept for the production he created meant some sections of the music wouldn’t fit well or be relevant. So, Prokofiev’s score was reduced and orchestrated (exceptionally well, it must be said, by Terry Davies) to suit the orchestra and the production.

The ballet starts immediately with the celebrated ‘Dance of the Knights’ or Montagues and Capulets. It is also the first movement of the Suite No. 2 from Romeo and Juliet, which Prokofiev created using two excerpts of the ballet. It is one of the best known moments in music, powerful and irresistibly dramatic. Here, it introduces us to the life of the young people in a horrible institution, apparently (so we are told) in Verona in the not so distant future. It is one of the most effective moments in Bourne’s creation, spellbinding, horrifying and fascinating in one. This section of the music is repeated a few times to great effect in some of the group scenes throughout the production. Juliet is one of the unfortunate girls imprisoned in this terrible place. Sympathetically danced with feeling and sensibility by Cordelia Braithwaite, it seems obvious she is fragile and being sexually abused by a rather unpleasant Tybalt as portrayed by Dan Wright. However, as the drama develops, we realise Juliet is not as fragile as she seems and Tybalt has his own demons though we can only imagine what these might be. Paris Fitzpatrick, as Romeo, is exceptionally good and dramatically very expressive. He believably conveys his confusion at having been dumped in the institution; his sudden fear of everyone who surrounds him and, simultaneously, the love he feels for Juliet and the calm and bliss it brings him.

Bourne’s reworking of Romeo and Juliet is innovative, imaginative and actually rather original although the choreography is similar to what we have been accustomed in his works. But the concept is unexpected and unconventional. There are some moments of genius. The beginning of the ballet, presenting the appalling institution while we are introduced to the young people imprisoned there and to Tybalt, is from my perspective one of the highlights of the piece. The movements of the dancers perfectly merge with the music from ‘Dance of the Knights’ and effectively transmit the alarming things that go on undetected in this ghastly place. Some of Bourne’s trademark motions can however become a little repetitive. For example, the throwing about of the arms or some of the jumps, not always well executed technically and that occasionally make the ensemble appear as children simply mucking about. On the other hand, the love duet between Juliet and Romeo is beautiful, passionate and moving with a purity and joy that are poignant since we know it can’t last. The final scenes, played in a morgue, are mesmerising and as memorable as they are bloody. To me what makes the ballet work remarkably well, making it at times almost hypnotic, is the extreme youth and sincerity of all the dancers especially of the two leads. I had the impression that Bourne wanted to create something that is significant for young people and our times. In my opinion, the message is possibly emphasising mental health issues, as well as the more generic theme that modern society is so terribly engrossed in making money and pursuing success that they forget their future – unashamedly crushing young persons’ dreams and aspirations. If this was his aim then he did definitely succeed.

The story of Romeo and Juliet, as created by Matthew Bourne, is set against a contemporary backdrop and bears little resemblance to Shakespeare’s tragedy or to the ballet versions I mentioned earlier. Nonetheless, the lovers still die in the end. As I wrote above, Prokofiev’s score is reduced and while we are informed by surtitles above the settings that we are in Verona, it could really be anywhere. Why all these young people are institutionalised is not clear and we are not told. The reasons for Romeo’s affluent parents (his father is apparently a senator) to dump him at the Institution are difficult to discern and remain unexplained. In his interview (part of the Blu-ray extras) Bourne states this was deliberate. He wanted the audience to make their own interpretation. It left me wondering whether it was a juvenile detention centre for children and adolescents who committed crimes or an institution where parents dumped their kids when they couldn’t control them because the children are considered problematic and don’t fit in. In the end it doesn’t really matter, the point is that all these youths are institutionalised under a tyrannic, iron regime that controls them through brutality, abuse and drugs.

The two young leads performing Romeo and Juliet respectively are outstanding, as I wrote early, but the whole cast is rather good, throwing themselves with gusto and passion into their particular roles. The orchestra, under the baton of Brett Morris, gives a satisfying, enthusiastic performance of Prokofiev’s reduced score, in line with the whole production and the exuberant, dedicated renditions of the young cast.
I missed the accompanying booklet that most opera or ballet Blu-rays contain. There is none, no information about the technical sound specifications and, although obvious the production was recorded live, it doesn’t state when or where. There is a digital programme brochure that can be downloaded for free at the New Adventures website. It provides some insights usually included in a booklet. The cast, technical and artistic credits are listed but, rather inconveniently, on the inside of the cover – too small and unclear due to the blue colour of the plastic jacket.

To summarise, Matthew Bourne’s production of Romeo and Juliet is one of his best works. It grabs you and holds you firmly until the end. This grip on the viewer is in no small way due to the heartfelt, committed, stirring performances of the very young cast. If you are a Matthew Bourne fan, you shouldn’t ignore this production and I’d strongly suggest you buy the DVD or the Blu-ray. If Bourne isn’t your thing or you don’t know his work, then his Romeo and Juliet is definitely the production to change your mind or a good place to start and grasp the reasons behind his enormous success.

Margarida Mota-Bull
(Margarida writes more than just reviews, check it online at

Advertising on

Donate and keep us afloat


New Releases

Naxos Classical
All Naxos reviews

Chandos recordings
All Chandos reviews

Hyperion recordings
All Hyperion reviews

Foghorn recordings
All Foghorn reviews

Troubadisc recordings
All Troubadisc reviews

all Bridge reviews

all cpo reviews

Divine Art recordings
Click to see New Releases
Get 10% off using code musicweb10
All Divine Art reviews

All Eloquence reviews

Lyrita recordings
All Lyrita Reviews


Wyastone New Releases
Obtain 10% discount

Subscribe to our free weekly review listing