Feeling their pain: Lost Dog’s Juliet & Romeo

The Place, London
June 18, 2019

David Mead

We all know the story and we all know the ending. After tragic misunderstandings in the vault, Romeo and Juliet died together. But what if it didn’t quite happen like that? What if they both actually survived? What if they are still together?

Fast forward twenty years or so, and we meet the star-crossed lovers again. After events in the crypt, they fled to Paris, where they now live in a small flat. They even have a daughter, Sophie. As for that ending we thought we knew? Turns out it’s all the fault of some guy called William Shakespeare who got them to tell their story over a bottle of whisky, but who also felt it needed a more dramatic conclusion.

Given Romeo and Juliet were young teenagers when they married, still being together is something of an achievement in itself, but time has taken its toll and their relationship is struggling. They’ve been to therapy, and a lot else besides: psychotherapy, hypnotism, couples’ massage. The list goes on. Nothing has worked, so they decide to relive decisive moments in their relationship so as to understand their present situation. Or rather Juliet decides. She is the dominant of the couple, fixated on the past. To say Romeo is rather less than enthusiastic would be an understatement. He just wants to be normal.

Ben Duke and Solène Weinachter in Juliet & RomeoPhoto Jane Hobson
Ben Duke and Solène Weinachter in Juliet & Romeo
Photo Jane Hobson

As scenes unfold, Ben Duke and Solène Weinachter show us a marriage littered with misunderstandings, and with one or two secrets each has kept hidden from their other partner. There’s his wondering if he didn’t drink the potion, “who else might be out there.” As he confides, when Juliet woke up, he was actually screwing the top back on the bottle, not taking it off to drink the contents. He just hasn’t quite found the right moment to tell her yet. Juliet also surprises with a story about her infidelity.

Duke and Weinachter have a remarkable chemistry and connection. They know just how to hit the spot; how to make dance theatre work. Juliet & Romeo doesn’t just flip back and forth between dance and theatre, between movement and speech (and let’s not forget the all-important moments of stillness and silence too), it does so with ease.

For all the text is important, it’s the danced interludes that are the most potent; that speak the loudest. It’s here that the friction and upset they cause each other emerges into glorious physicality. They fight. Bodies crash and tumble, as does the furniture. It seems desperately real. But it’s also a cry for help, and when they recall joint tragedy in the shape of Juliet’s miscarrying their first child, they find common ground as they support each other.

What Duke and Weinachter play out may be fiction but the real genius of the show is that they make it seem so real. You really feel their hurt. I would be surprised if there were not a few in the audience who related moments on stage to their own lives.

Lost Dog’s Juliet & Romeo can be seen on this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe, at Dance Base from August 21-25, 2019. Visit www.dancebase.co.uk/festival for tickets.