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 The Theatreguide.London Review

& Juliet
Shaftsbury Theatre   2019 - 2020

Colourful, song-filled and energetic, this is a jukebox musical with a plot, more in the manner of Mamma Mia than, say, Thriller.

Max Martin is a hit-making songwriter who claims to be second only to Lennon and McCartney in producing Number One songs. His back catalogue includes Baby One More Time, I Kissed A Girl, and other hits for Britney Spears, Westlife, Backstreet Boys, Celine Dion, Katy Perry and others.

Twenty-nine Martin hits are squeezed into a book by David West Read that imagines Juliet surviving Shakespeare's tragedy and Mrs Shakespeare insisting that Will write a new play for her.

Along with her Nurse, her Gay Best Friend and Mrs S, Juliet travels to Paris where she and the others all have new romantic adventures, while Shakespeare trails along desperately trying to regain control of the play.

The songs, all familiar to most in the audience, are shoehorned into the plot in frequently unexpected ways and, as happens at Mamma Mia, you can spot the real fans by their anticipatory laughter as they sense a song cue coming before the rest of us.

The new plot moves along quickly enough for us not to ask any questions, and there are opportunities for nicely understated wit, particularly in the byplay between the Shakespeares. ('There will never be another Anne Hathaway,' he says admiringly, as everyone pauses to let us remember the movie star.)

Miriam Teak-Lee plays Juliet with attractive energy, singing and dancing her way through at least half the song list. But she never really develops a character.

Apart from wanting some control over her own life (which is really more Anne's determination than hers) Juliet has no real identity beyond a singer of songs.

The real star performance of the evening comes from Cassidy Janson as Anne. She not only creates a believable and attractive woman but invests her with sparkling energy and wit that take your eyes away from anyone else onstage when she's around.

And she has the best voice and singing style in the cast, so it is her numbers that are repeatedly the show-stoppers.

There's entertaining support from Oliver Tompsett as a comically threatened both as writer and as macho man Shakespeare and from Melanie La Barrie, adding a feisty Caribbean flavour to Shakespeare's earthy Nurse.

There are lots of brightly colourful sets and costumes to entertain the eye, but as sometimes happens with clumsily sound-engineered musicals, you would not be able to swear absolutely that the show wasn't pre-recorded and lip-synced throughout.

Voices are all over-amplified to the point of being disembodied, the sound coming from someplace Up There while the performers are in various places Down Here.

If your idea of a Good Night Out is hearing songs you already know being sung by people you don't, and you've already seen the superior Tina, the very superior Mamma Mia or even the inferior Thriller, then & Juliet will satisfy you.

It is worth mentioning that the very last thing left onstage when the cast have left after the curtain calls is an actual jukebox.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of  & Juliet - Shaftsbury Theatre 2019