It's time for me to step out…

Phoebe Ireland watches &Juliet at the Shaftesbury Theatre.

Having been raised on musicals from a young age, I am always eager to add another soundtrack to my playlist. I was initially skeptical about a new musical boasting pop songs from the last 30 years as its soundtrack, but having encountered only rave reviews I booked my ticket for &Juliet. The two and a half hours I spent at the Shaftesbury Theatre were glorious, and I have listened to the cast album on repeat for the past few weeks. 

This musical is not another retelling of the classic Shakespearean story. The creators of this show have provided a modern continuation of the life of Juliet Capulet, with the addition of William Shakespeare and his wife Anne as pivotal characters adding another layer to the story. The musical starts with Anne challenging Shakespeare’s ending to Romeo and Juliet, and the story presented to the audience is Anne’s creation (with a little meddling by her husband). 

The action centres around Juliet’s life in the days after Romeo’s death. In a wholly modern fashion, Juliet, with the help of her friends, goes on a journey to Paris, where she finds much more than just herself. The musical is made up of multiple love stories which show not only tender moments, but also the raw and deeply emotional struggle of wanting to be with a person you love.

To consider this show within a psychological framework, one needs to look no further than the song list; the true growth of the characters is echoed in the soundtrack. When the audience initially meets a new character, they are all, in their own way, trapped. The introduction of Juliet is paired with a heart-wrenching rendition of Britney Spears’s ‘Baby One More Time’, and this reveals the mental anguish Juliet feels upon waking and finding her beloved Romeo dead. Miriam-Teak Lee’s performance as Juliet is so moving, as she decides where to go from there.                                                      

The plot does echo the form of Shakespeare's original. For example, there is a ball, and a chance encounter that change the lives of the characters. Despite having similarities, the story stands alone as the characters embody different versions of themselves; more free. Each new character – May, Lance, Francois – brings their personal difficulties to the story, supporting Juliet’s storyline. They each feel locked within the role they are expected to play, but over the course of the story they find themselves within the lyrics of the songs they sing. 

Stirring moments are artfully intertwined with comedy, to form a truly breathtaking celebration of life and love. This show is best expressed in the second act, with the lyrics ‘Sick of being told who I am/ Been put into a box, no not again/ It’s time for me to step out/ And show ‘em what I’m all about’ (‘One More Try’). Go to see &Juliet – put aside the Juliet and Romeo you think you know, to fully embrace the new life that has been breathed into the centuries old tale. 

-       &Juliet - the musical is currently being shown at the Shaftesbury Theatre, near Tottenham Court Road station.  

- Reviewed by Phoebe Ireland MA, University College Dublin

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