Classical ballet – even of the earthier, 20th-century kind – can struggle at Sadler’s Wells. The stage isn’t quite big enough to allow some of the larger ensembles and longer stories to breathe, there’s no proscenium arch to provide an elegant frame for the action, and the stark modernity of the auditorium is often at odds with the necessarily period stage design.
Yet, given the right performance of the right production, such cares can melt away, as they swiftly did during the first night of the Birmingham Royal Ballet (BRB) revival of Romeo and Juliet. First staged in 1992, this is essentially the Royal Ballet’s famous Kenneth MacMillan production from 1965 (a battering ram to the emotions when done properly), though there is one fundamental difference. Where the original’s designs are by Nicholas Georgiadis, BRB’s are by Paul Andrews. And, although the overall effect here is less monumental and awe-inspiring, it is also more like watching a Raphael canvas or Veronese fresco come to life.
If I’ve a gripe about BRB’s latest revival, it’s an occasional shortage of venom. Rory Mackay, as Tybalt, seems too willing here to rely on his (undeniably forceful) stage presence – too often he feels more passively disgruntled uncle than impulsively belligerent, murderously protective cousin. Similarly, Feargus Campbell’s handsome Paris needs to find more entitled, crushed-ego rage when spurned by Momoko Hirata’s Juliet, and, during the sword-fights, I found myself yearning for the terrifying strength and aggression that the mighty Carlos Acosta, foil in hand, used to summon in the same story on the Covent Garden stage. While I’m carping, although the Royal Ballet Sinfonia under Paul Murphy delivered Prokofiev’s work-of-art score with power, the brass were distractingly unreliable in the upper registers, very unusual for this band.