Romeo & Juliet: at Leeds Grand Theatre Until 16 March

The triumphant return to Leeds Grand reviewed: The Northern Ballet brings a beloved classic back to life

Christopher Gable CBE and Massimo Moricone’s Romeo & has returned to the stage following a premature hiatus in 2015 when the ballet was submerged in two meters of flood water.

The Northern Ballet has a long history with the production, having premiered first in 1992 at the Leeds Grand Theatre. Over the past year, the company has worked tirelessly to restore Lez Brotherston OBE’s elaborate sets and costumes from the original production and bring their most beloved and critically acclaimed production back to life. This painstaking labour of love paid off on opening night at the Leeds Grand Theatre and made for a stunning resurrection of this timeless, tragic love story, played out against the backdrop of a beautifully-lit Verona set and Sergei Prokofiev’s iconic music.

Northern Ballet Dancers

Full of life and colour, the opening scene transports the audience to a 14th/15th-century Verona marketplace and introduces the family feud between the Capulets and the Montagues – the key plot device used to drive the narrative forward and build tension. The conflict at the heart of the story breaks out with a fight between Romeo and Tybalt, the nephew of Lord Capulet, amidst carnival preparations in the town square. Initially playful, as the vibrant crowd is drawn into the skirmish and two pompously-dressed men well past their prime – Lord Montague (Andrew Tomlinson) and Lord Capulet (Jonathan Hanks) – clumsily duel to comic effect, the mood turns sombre in an instant at the sound of a scream when the rivalry takes its first victim. Foreshadowing the inevitable ending, the opening scene sets the tone for the rest of the night. The tension between the two warring parties gradually escalates as the plot unfolds with ominous inevitability.

Setting the scene is greatly aided by the marvellous costume design, relying on the contrast between light and dark to visually set apart not only the characters but also the two warring clans. The jovial Montagues are often dressed in light and airy pastel shades and fabrics, establishing their good guy good guy status from the start, while the Capulets’ (with the notable exceptions of Juliet and the Nurse) heavy black and red garbs featuring studded leather give out unmistakable villain vibes. The same attention to detail in setting the rivals apart can be observed in the choreography – the Capulets’ aggressive and sharp movements versus the Montagues’ free and expansive movements across the stage.

Dominique Larose

This whole cast was committed to character and came together to deliver fantastic ensemble performances, showcasing the breadth and depth of talent in the company’s ranks. Juliet, played by Dominique Larose, is initially timid and subdued when first introduced to her suitor Count Paris (Jackson Dwyer). Her demeanour and facial expression swiftly change to wide-awake and fully engaged when she first locks eyes with Joseph Taylor’s Romeo at the Capulets’ ball. The scene is cleverly staged with intermittent time-freeze moments that pause the ongoing brawl and shift the focus to the two lovers lost in their own world amid the chaos of yet another clash born out of the rivalry between their families.

With excellent technique and intensity of performance, the pair – Larose and Taylor – are perfectly matched and utterly convincing in portraying the journey of their characters of finding, feeling and expressing their love for each other as well as their sorrow when fate and inter-familial animosity pull them apart. The two are sublime when dancing together in the pivotal balcony de deux and strong in their individual solos. Larose’s pointe work in the scene when Juliet drinks the potion, shifting from perfect control to feigned shakiness, is particularly impressive. Aside from the leads, the other dancers are perfectly cast and get to shine in their respective roles.

Aaron Kok

Heather Lehan’s nurse is instantly lovable; you understand precisely why Juliet opens her heart to her. The close bond between the two is palpable, from their first pillow fight in Juliet’s bedroom and is endearing to behold every time we find the two characters together in moments ‘when no one is watching’.

Aaron Kok’s daring and cheeky Mercutio is as cool and funny as can be. He absolutely stole the show with an epic solo full of energy and panache, making him an audience-favourite. Kok also did a fantastic job playing Mercutio’s final moments without falling into the trap of overacting. Stefano Varalta puts his dance chops on full display as Romeo’s faithful friend Benvolio, especially when the three friends take centre stage to deliver powerful, synchronised routines. On the other side of the barricade, Harry Skoupas was uncompromising in his performance of the irascible and cruel Tybalt, which earned him less applause than he deserved and a few boos. Albeit ungrateful, that’s a sign of a job well done when you’re tasked with playing the villain.

Rachael Gillespie

In an unexpected turn of events, this memorable performance of Romeo & Juliet was followed by an impromptu and far less harmonised performance of ‘Happy Birthday’, when Northern Ballet’s Artistic Director Federico Bonelli invited the audience to join the cast and orchestra in honouring the night’s special guest – the Duke of Edinburgh.

Commencing his short speech with a quip about the unexpected end to the night, the guest of honour expressed his support for the Northern Ballet and praised the company for the ‘wonderful job [they did] bringing this production back to life’ – I couldn’t agree more with His Royal Highness. The Duke also gave a special shout-out to the Northern Ballet Symphonia, who delighted the audience with their spectacular performance of the Prokofiev’s iconic score and received a standing ovation at the beginning of the third act.

Joseph Taylor and Dominique Larose

If you are still unconvinced, you wouldn’t want to miss the jaw-dropping special effect at the end of Act II that had everyone talking throughout the interval – it’s too good to spoil! Fast-paced and action-packed from the start, the Northern Ballet’s Romeo & Juliet will keep you entertained throughout all three acts and a runtime of approximately 2 hours and 24 minutes.

Romeo & Juliet is at the Leeds Grand Theatre until 16 March 2024, then touring. Tickets are available to purchase at:

All photography by Emily Nuttall. Main image: Dominique Larose and Joseph Taylor.

Further reading BY

Do you have a story to tell?
We want to hear your stories and help you share them.