Image credit: Stephen A’Court

Reviewed by Talia Carlisle

What a magical place Wellington is, when you can start your evening with gin and fresh seafood at Cinderella’s for the Wellington on a Plate Launch – and pop down to the St James Theatre, home of the Royal New Zealand Ballet for their opening night of the iconic romance Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare. What better love story to see in the city I love.

Romeo and Juliet is not just a ballet or a love story, but a world of possibility, hope and beauty that radiates from the St James stage, warming our hearts and ears with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra’s beautiful melodies conducted by Hamish McKeich.

The music and choreography are impeccably entwined as we watch the cheerful villagers come to life in vivid colour and costumes by the maestro of fashion, James Acheson, whose career spans 50 years and 36 episodes of Dr Who, and who also created the beautiful set designs, which rotate, rise and surprise audiences throughout the show’s three acts.

Acheson’s costumes take us to the heart of Verona, where each costume is layered and textured with gold and a velveteen sheen of hidden layers – pinks, greens, blues and yellows. This garden-worthy array of costumes worn by the villagers, welcome us into Verona with frivolous fun and fiery flirtations that introduce the clashing Montague and Capulet families, including our lover boy Romeo in dreamy blue.

Royal New Zealand Ballet’s own Prince Charming (Joshua Guillemot-Rodgerson) is back in another historical romance since his royal lead role in Cinderella in 2022. This time his character Romeo is a troublemaker with his friends Mercutio and Benvolio, since every good bromance needs its three musketeers.

Things don’t go smoothly for Romeo, who defends his pal in a duel to the death. This bodes well for audiences thanks to Simon Mann’s fight direction (also from Cinderella), but threatens Romeo’s relationship with sweet, innocent Juliet (Katherine Minor), whose headstrong cousin Tybalt (Laurynas Vejalis) gets caught in their dramatic battle.

Romeo seems overall surprisingly carefree and devoid of responsibilities, while Escalus, Prince of Verona, makes me wish I had a cape, guardsman, and a thundering percussion accompaniment everytime I walk in a room.

Juliet and her bright-eyed maiden friends are contrastingly delightful, hopeful and happy in contrast to all the fighting. Juliet has the added protection of her matronly nurse (Gretchen Steimle) dressed in garden green, who is a pleasure to watch dote over the young women, and looks as if she’s about to burst into song like Maria from the Sound of Music from the joy on her face.

These friendships and relationships bring the story to life, as the set transitions from day to night and I don’t even notice because I’m caught up in the beautiful comradery and choreography by Andrea Schermoly, especially Romeo and Juliet’s first duet, and their last.

Everything about these performances and costumes sparkle, with gold threads catching the beautiful lighting designed by Jeremy Fern. It takes me back to Verona and Juliet’s balcony where I visited in 2017, and of course the balcony in Romeo and Juliet is a character in itself which will not disappoint.

When the curtains close and the theatre lights return (3 times for 3 acts!) I keep trying to hold on to the beautiful pirouettes, velveteen costumes, and whimsical, beautiful music by Sergei Prokofiev, which sounds like it could have been composed last year, not 1935.

I am reminded of the power these beautiful stories have in connecting us, and reminding us that the world isn’t so far apart, when the magic of art, dance and ballet can connect us all on a rainy Wellington night. Whether you’re wearing slippers or glass slippers – (that’s a different Cinderella story, which you can see at Te Auaha, in Into The Woods!)

Love is a journey and a destination, and you can find it in Romeo and Juliet, on until Saturday.