Matthew Bourne on capturing young love ahead of Romeo and Juliet at Theatre Royal

PUBLISHED: 16:49 07 August 2019 | UPDATED: 16:58 07 August 2019

Matthew Bourne Credit: Hugo Glendinning/Supplied by Norwich Theatre Royal

Matthew Bourne Credit: Hugo Glendinning/Supplied by Norwich Theatre Royal


Packed with drama and emotion, Matthew Bourne captures the essence and power of young love and passion in his latest production.

Matthew Bourne at the Olivier Awards 2019 Credit: Pamela Raith/Supplied by Norwich Theatre RoyalMatthew Bourne at the Olivier Awards 2019 Credit: Pamela Raith/Supplied by Norwich Theatre Royal

He tells John Bultitude about his interpretation of a timeless play, his drive to engage and support young talent and how his energy and excitement when creating work is as keen as ever.

Shakespeare's classic tale of star cross'd lovers has inspired the creative community for generations. The tragic and passionate love story set against the conflict of two divided families has spawned countless plays, musicals, operas and songs.

For the world-renowned and respected choreographer Matthew Bourne, Romeo and Juliet was actually inspired by who he would work with rather than just the story.

He explained: "I avoided doing it for years as I think it was something everyone expected me to do and it had been done in so many different ways in so many different mediums.

"I thought it would be hard to find a new way into it which is something I always search for.

"The thing that really made me want to do it was the opportunity to work with young people. It is a story about them and young love.

"I got even more excited when it was suggested we cast it with young people and work with young creative associates in all the different departments of the show alongside my usual world-class team. It is all about nurturing them and telling the story."

Romeo and Juliet's plot also lends itself to choreography because of its themes.

Matthew said: "Dance is very good at extreme emotions, and Romeo and Juliet as a story is certainly full of those.

Romeo and Juliet Credit: Johan PerssonRomeo and Juliet Credit: Johan Persson

"It has passion, love against the odds and several extremes of murder and violence. It is all those big emotions. Shakespeare captured it very well. "Young people are very hot headed and react very quickly to things.

"One thing I have tried to bring out is that when young people first fall in love and feel that passion, they really go overboard in many ways.

"I often think about how classical ballet handles this and how the young girl gets very excited by a kiss on the cheek.

"Young people today, if they are into each other, are kissing until their mouths are sore. I have tried to capture that intensity.

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"It is also set a little way into the future, but it is not futuristic.

"It is a time when society is frowning on young people having an excess of feeling and emotion which sends them off on the wrong tracks as far as society is concerned.

"I got the idea from Arthur Laurents, the co-creator of West Side Story, who was asked why the young people in it are violent and act the way they do? He said they have too much feeling and they need to find a way to release it."

One of this country's best-known directors and choreographers, Matthew has been creating dance for over 30 years for musicals, theatres and film as well as his own New Adventures company which boasts a list of hugely successful productions including the iconic Swan Lake, Edward Scissorhands, Red Shoes and Play Without Words.

Romeo and Juliet  Credit: Johan PerssonRomeo and Juliet Credit: Johan Persson

For Romeo and Juliet, Matthew has once again gathered his trusted creative team around him including associate artistic director Etta Murfitt, set and costume designer Lez Brotherston and lighting designer Paule Constable to add their skill, knowledge and talent to the production to both cushion and push him as he brings his interpretation of the Bard's work to life.

Also, part of the team is the composer Terry Davies, another long-term collaborator of Matthew's who had the job of adapting Prokofiev's music for this production.

He said: "While it is wonderful and big and lush for big opera-house productions and suits that style of production, I wanted something a bit more earthy and a bit more quirky.

"We nervously went to the Prokofiev Estate and asked them if we could do a new arrangement.

"It would be very faithful to it and it is only 15 musicians who multi-task and play lots of different instruments.

"It is quite rare for us to take an orchestra out on tour with us."

At each venue, six fast-emerging dancers (three male and three female) have been chosen to perform on stage alongside the professional company. After a series of auditions around the country, this highly-talented half-dozen gets the opportunity to be part of a world premiere tour surrounded by the professional company.

With four major productions this year plus a Special Award at the Olivier's for services to dance, 2019 is proving to be quite a year for Matthew. He recalled: "It has been amazing. Swan Lake coming back is always a thrill because it does introduce so many more people to dance and to our company.

"It always has an incredible effect on audiences around the country and our casts are so devoted to it.

Romeo and Juliet  Credit: Johan PerssonRomeo and Juliet Credit: Johan Persson

"In the middle of all that, getting the Olivier Special Award right in the middle of creating a new show was rather good because the award can feel a bit like it is the end of your career and people are saying 'Thank you, Please Stop.'

"It felt great to be in the middle of a new creation like Romeo and Juliet. It was about the past and about the future at the same time."

Matthew Bourne's Romeo and Juliet comes to the Theatre Royal from September 3 to 7 and you can purchase tickets (£10 to £42) at, by phone on 01603 630000 or in person at the box office.

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