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'& Juliet': The Reimagining of Shakespeare’s Tragedy

To describe this play in one sentence is difficult, but to put it simply, & Juliet puts female empowerment centre stage, brings alive classic 2010s pop bangers in new ways, and has a black female lead. Need I say more?

Bessy Ewa as Juliet and Ensemble. Photo by Elizabeth Grace.

I went in with no expectations; I didn’t even know & Juliet was a musical. Controversially, I usually shy away from musicals as I find them too sappy and annoying when, every five minutes, the cast breaks into song and dance. However, & Juliet has completely changed my mind. The segue into each song is phenomenal, as it seamlessly shifts from dialogue to music. If you have seen this play, then you know the transition into ‘Oops I Did It Again’ is hard to rival. There is no better play in London right now that perfectly embodies ‘New Beginnings.’

Once you step into the theatre, you know you are in for a whirlwind play. From the stunning interior of Shaftesbury Theatre to the flashing layout on the stage, director Luke Sheppard immediately captivates you. In fact, before the story even begins, you are transported into the mind of musical and lyricist director, Max Martin, with a cheeky song and dance ensemble.

Photo by Elizabeth Grace.

The play opens with Anne Hathaway (Cassidy Janson), fighting with her husband, William Shakespeare (Oliver Tompsett) to write a better ending for his character, Juliet. Instead of dying, Anne proposes that Juliet’s famous ending should be rewritten to become her beginning. I could not have thought of a better way to launch the theme of female empowerment than to have the story retold by Anne, Shakespeare’s ‘forgotten wife’.

Allow me to set the scene. We all know the classic story of Romeo and Juliet, two star crossed lovers who end up committing suicide in the name of love. But, imagine if only Romeo dies? In this ‘fair Verona’, Juliet (Miriam-Teak Lee) arises from her slumber, only to discover that her one and only love - of only four days - lays dead beside her. She later discovers at Romeo’s funeral that her beloved had many beloveds of his own. This is where the story of & Juliet begins.

Struck by grief and shock, Juliet jets off to Paris, where her adventures truly begin. The musical’s wittiness shines through, as it light-heartedly jokes about some of the absurdities of Shakespeare’s original Romeo and Juliet. In this reimagined classic, Juliet is now in her twenties (to keep it legal), instead of being a naïve 13-year-old. And as any young lady should have a best friend, cue the introduction of May (Joe Foster). May is a lovable, queer character that is put front and centre. Joe Foster really leans into this role and gives this play its more contemporary feel. Whilst exploring themes of gender nonconformity and gender dysphoria, Foster delivers a beautiful rendition of “I’m Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman”. This was certainly a stand-out performance for me. To top it all off, the audience is given a performance from a boy band, which keeps in with the theme of the 2010s throwback songs - One Direction who?

Oliver Tompsett as Shakespeare and Cassidy Janson as Anne Hathaway. Photo by Elizabeth Grace.

This play keeps you entertained throughout. It offers some ups and downs and twists and turns. Then, just as you think Juliet’s life couldn’t get any more complicated, the plot twist at the end of the first act digs a hole in Juliet’s path. During the interval, you are left eager to know what will happen next.

& Juliet hosts a stellar cast, with Nicolas Colicos as Lance, Billy Nevers as Francois, and a special mention must go to Malinda Parris who plays Juliet’s Nurse. The vocals are top-notch, and it was almost as if each role was made for its actor.

However, for all the praises I have sung, there was just one glaring shortcoming of this play – the ending. After delivering a powerful version of ‘Roar’ by Katy Perry, I was ready to see Juliet finally stand on her own two feet and take on the world as her own. Without giving too much away, this is not what happened. Unfortunately, the ending did not reflect the themes of the play as a whole. This is not to say that the ending completely ruins the play. It is a great watch, but I would have liked to see the theme of female empowerment reflected all the way to the end. After all, this is a play about Juliet.

Bessy Ewa as Juliet. Photo by Elizabeth Grace.

Like I said, this is a thoroughly enjoyable play. No matter how much you hold back, you will find yourself singing along, and even dancing in your seat. Whether you watch it alone or with friends, the atmosphere is impeccable. This musical has witty humour, it’s got queer romance, and it’s got live music. What more could you want?

Edited by Georgia Gibson, Theatre Editor.

Editor's Note: The images used in this article were photographed by talented student photographer, Elizabeth Grace, on a separate date to Toluwase Agusto's article. Therefore, some casting in the images may differ to the cast referenced in the article.