Matthew Bourne’s ‘Romeo + Juliet’ adds up to a real Tokyo treat

Rehearsal Images, Three Mills, London, 2023, Curve Theatre, UK
(c) Johan Persson/

Almost five long years after its world premiere at the Curve Theatre in Leicester, Japanese audiences are finally set to see for themselves why “Romeo + Juliet”, Matthew Bourne’s take on Shakespeare’s great love-tragedy, has been so popular wherever it has been staged.

One of the great innovators in today’s contemporary dance world, 64-year-old Sir Matthew Bourne OBE rose from a background in London’s working-class East End to make headlines across the arts world with his hilarious, bitter-sweet re-staging of Tchaikovsky’s classic “Swan Lake” ballet in 1995.

In that unforgettable production he converted the original’s willowy white swan female dancers to fierce male dancers who nonetheless craved group interaction, while also splendidly depicting the lonely gay prince’s wrenching love for the leading male swan.

Also, with its witty jokes about British culture and the U.K.’s royal family, that show caused quite a stir at home ahead of sell-out tours to the U.S., several European countries, Russia, Australia, Israel, China, Singapore, South Korea and — several times — Japan.

Since that megahit, Bourne has created acclaimed stages with his unique, highly individual approach to such works as “Cinderella”, “Nutcracker!”, “Edward Scissorhands”, “Dorian Gray”, “Sleeping Beauty”, “Red Shoes” and his latest, 2021 work, “The Midnight Bell” based on a 1929 novel by the English writer Patrick Hamilton.

Rehearsal Images, Three Mills, London, 2023, Curve Theatre, UK
(c) Johan Persson

Even among such award-winning standouts, Bourne’s “Romeo + Juliet”, which had its London premiere at the Sadler’s Wells theatre in August 2019 — and which runs Apr. 10–21 at Tokyu Theatre Orb in Shibuya, Tokyo — has become another major talking point due to its bold and contemporary interpretation of Shakespeare that has drawn a huge reaction, including:

“One of Bourne’s smartest, sexiest, most stirring shows ever.”  
(The Daily Telegraph)  
“A seismic youthquake. A Romeo and Juliet for the millennial generation.” (The Stage)

In creating this work, Bourne changed the setting of the two teens’ tragic love drama from medieval Verona to a juvenile detention centre in the not too distance future where rebellious youths, often with mental problems, are confined.

In that place the guards control the vulnerable young prisoners by the use of force. They include Tybalt — Juliet’s cousin in Shakespeare’s play, though not in this work, who is particularly violent and aggressive. In fact Juliet was sexually assaulted by him and fell into despair.

Then Romeo was sent there by Senator Montague, who didn’t care about her son. So, he and Juliet had a fateful encounter in those wretched conditions. However, such love tragedies didn’t only happen to boys and girls, but also to Romeo’s friend Mercutio, his boyfriend Balthasar, and their friend Benvolio.

Portrait of Paris Fitzpatrick
Photo courtesy of New Adventures

Here now, has an exclusive email interview with one of the triple-cast actors in the role of Romeo, Paris Fitzpatrick (the others are Jackson Fisch and Rory Macleod):

Q:   This is one of Matthew Bourne’s biggest hits. Why do you think that is?

A:   I think this show is particularly touching largely because of its stripped-back nature. There isn’t a huge emphasis on the set or costumes, although both are beautiful, and the plot itself has been stripped back to its essence — a story of young love and tragedy. It is quite a vulnerable place to be for us as performers, but I think this is partly why audiences connect with our version of this epic story in such a tangible way.

I also know that our version is very unique and often not what people are expecting to see. It’s a fresh take on the story, full of drama as you would expect, but with Matthew’s signature twists and turns and an exciting display of unique choreography and storytelling that is one of a kind.

Q:  What is this tragedy about, beyond the rivalry between the Capulets and Montagues? What else is it that Romeo and Juliet are fighting against?

 A:  Actually, our version strays away from the traditional feuding families and looks at the fight between authority and those who are being oppressed. It also delves into the psychological battles within the individual characters in the story. In the case of Romeo and Juliet, their struggle is against authoritarian figures in a literal sense — but then also internally in finding a way to allow their love to flourish in a world that has damaged them and continually seeks to divide them.

Q:  What do you find the most challenging aspect of the choreography in this production?

 A:  For me, the challenge choreographically is always in finding a way to do the movement justice and make it as exciting and nuanced as possible, as well as being able to tell the story and convey all of the emotions necessary at the same time. There are also some intense, physically demanding sections, notably the famous balcony duet which is long and challenging and ends with possibly the longest on stage kiss ever — which can make it difficult to catch your breath! 

Q:  Are there any particular scenes that you think Japanese audiences will most enjoy?

A:  I really think that Japanese audiences will enjoy the whole production! It has so much to offer … comedy, drama, passion, love at first sight, and everything in between.

All the dancers in the company are such committed storytellers, and the show is rich with interesting characters and sub-stories. I think maybe the most passionate sections of the show will capture the audience’s hearts and the duets and the tragic finale will be the moments that stick with them for a long time.

As the production, including Romeo’s role, runs with a triple cast — or even four or five dancers in some roles — if you want to you can enjoy a different leading couple on stage every, allowing you to see the work from many different angles and gain insights into this generation’s various “Romeo + Juliet” interpretations.

“Romeo + Juliet” runs Apr. 10–21 at Tokyu Theatre Orb in Tokyo. For more details, visit, .