Review: Is &Juliet the musical worth seeing?

Over the past 3 years &Juliet has developed cult following in the west end, but with it's closure looming does this beloved show deserve its fate and should you see it before it closes its doors? Here's what I thought of this west end staple.

Review: Is &Juliet the musical worth seeing?

On the 5th of November 2022, I went to see & Juliet at the Shaftsbury theatre in London. & Juliet is a jukebox stage musical which uses the music of Max Martin to tell and alternative ending to Romeo and Juliet including hits like I want it that way and roar. We the audience have been invited to attend the first performance of Shakespeare’s new play Romeo and Juliet however, when he reveals the ending, he has written, the reception is less than favourable with his wife, Anne Hathaway, suggesting that Juliet shouldn’t kill herself and that that should be the start of the play. Thus, an adventure begins as the audience is taken through the new ending which Shakespeare and Anne agree to write together. However, conflict and disagreement lead to a rollercoaster ride of engagements, unexpected romances, lots of singing and dancing and even someone being raised from the dead, with Shakespeare’s quill being broken by Anne at the climax. This means the characters are left to their own devices to resolve the extremely messy situation they are left with leading to self-discovery and standing up for themselves in an all-round empowering ending. This trip was my 4th time seeing this show and I am a regular theatre go-er seeing an average of a show a month due to my deep passion for this art form, meaning I am familiar with this work and others like it.

What was good?

It’s safe to say I love this show, it’s a fun and infectious party while still exploring some important themes of marriage, sexuality, family, friendship, self-confidence and forging your own path which are perfectly balanced with the fun, light-hearted tone.

One thing this show excels at is comedy with it’s witty quips consistently making the audience laugh throughout the show. A lot of the humour revolves around Shakespeare using irony to cleverly point out the flaws in his work and watching the cocky version of the character they create be consistently dragged by all the other characters is hilarious and never fails to summon a laugh. I also Love how they challenge the traditional expectation of the male romantic lead by making Romeo and emotional “douche” with “no upper body strength”, not only making him an amazing comedic character but challenging the traditional idea of masculinity in a way which is scarcely seen. All the characters have clear roles and purposes within the story which they generally execute well and, given the large number of characters and events, they are successfully given enough development to feel layered within such a short space of time. The songs are executed perfectly giving you the amazing orchestrations, vocals, choreography, emotion and spectacle you would expect from such a big west end show and the entire cast are extremely talented vocalists frequently sprinkling in surprise riffs and runs that shock you every time. The ensemble is relentless in their engaging performance putting their all into every piece of the dynamic and fresh choreography as well as providing hidden moments of comedic gold in the back of scenes. In addition, the performance I saw this day was a cut show meaning they performed a show designed for 12 ensemble members with 10 so the ensemble was working over-time playing parts that aren’t usually in their track and rearranging formations seamlessly so the show continued as usual, and you would never realise that people were missing. This show has so much heart and hits all the emotional beats as you truly empathise with the characters so songs like That’s the way it is and Whataya want from me left me crying. If I had to choose the main reason, I love this show it would have to be the relationship between the audience and the characters. What makes this show unique is that the plot means the audience are supposed to be there allowing the characters to interact with them creating a special connection which is utilised for moments of comedy and heartfelt confession giving the show a much more human core.

What was not so good?

The main issue I have with this show is Juliet and her character arc. Her “self-love” and “empowerment” plotline come off as slightly conceited given her actions throughout the show as she never seems overly concerned with anyone else’s issues other than her own. She frequently brushes off May when they try to express their hardships, and whenever she does “help” anyone it’s no more than a couple of lines of reassurance in a song. This means that in the climax of the show when she finally stands up for herself and states “I love me” it doesn’t feel like she’s earnt that development as a character as this has been evident from the beginning through how she has acted and we have never felt as though she was having a confidence crisis. Therefore, this slightly weakens the message of the show as whole as it feels slightly disingenuous.

Would I recommend it?

I would definitely recommend this show to a friend as it is extremely joyous and fun, and I don’t think it would be possible to watch it without having a good time. I think it has a great appeal to young people due to its youthful energy and relevant themes of self-discovery and gaining confidence, as well as the fact they will be very familiar with the pop hits included in the show. In addition, I also believe this show will speak to older generations as it explores various aspects of parenting, marriage and finding romance later in life.  Plus, this show is quite reasonably priced compared to other west end musicals of the same scale, with tickets scarcely going over £100 and there are frequently very good offers on seats. On this trip I only paid £45 for a royal circle seat with an unobstructed view and was close enough to clearly see facial expressions and the Shaftsbury theatre is fantastically designed so every seat has a clear view meaning even the cheapest seats are still very good. Therefore, I would also recommend this show as it is an affordable option if you want to see a west end show.

What have I learnt from it?

Seeing this show has taught me that a piece of art does not need to take itself too seriously in order to be valid. I am aware some people may be offended by the notion of me calling & Juliet a “piece of art” as recently I have seen a lot of slander for jukebox musicals and this show in particular stating it’s no more than a shallow “hen party show” with some people I know even refusing to acknowledge it as a musical despite it clearly fitting its definition. I find this is because there sometimes can be a level of arrogance within the arts that requires things to be incredibly deep and experimental often dismissing light-hearted works such as this. However, I have personally found that once you open your mind to this show you discover it is actually quite smart in the way it is written and there is credit to be found in being able make fun of yourself. Although, it may not deliver the deepest and most profound message it is still full of heart and emotion, and I personally have found it to be a source of comfort meaning I think it delivers its aim and purpose wonderfully. The fact that there is so much critical acclaim for six the musical but slander and belittling for this shows highlights a double standard as I have found them both to share the same tone. Overall, I think the industry need to be more open minded to newer works in whatever form they may be as all should be considered valid, and people should not be shamed for what they enjoy as there is an audience for every show.

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Lauren Birbeck

Lauren Birbeck

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