If you thought William Shakespeare had an impressive canon of work, then just wait until you hear about Max Martin. The Swedish songwriter is responsible for penning some of the biggest hits of the last two decades, from Britney to P!nk and The Backstreet Boys to Katy Perry, if you’ve bopped along to it at a family wedding then there’s a good chance that Max Martin is the man responsible. & Juliet is the new jukebox musical that takes many of those hits and sets them against a different version of Shakespeare’s most famous love story.
David West Read’s book imagines that Anne Hathaway is just a little more than disgruntled at the direction her husband’s latest play is heading. Anne steps in to rewrite the story and Juliet’s ending suddenly becomes her beginning, fleeing to France with her nurse and best friends, May and April – the latter also happens to be Hathaway, who decides she wants to be part of the story.
In Paris they meet Francois and his father, Lance. Juliet is ready to race down the aisle again in order to avoid being sent to a convent, but May also has eyes for Francois. Meanwhile Nurse recognises Lance as an old flame and that romance gets rekindled, then Shakespeare isn’t too happy with his wife’s rewrite so brings Romeo back to life to spice things up.
It’s a crazy story, but it actually works really well. The way the scenes are brought to life from the imaginations of Shakespeare and Hathaway is particularly strong, and are a masterstroke of direction from Luke Sheppard. At times the Shaftesbury Theatre feels more like an arena as bright lights and loud music pulsate through the audience, making it feel like a gig from your favourite pop star.
Miriam-Teak Lee’s Juliet is full of confidence and self-awareness, owning the stage and throwing out exceptional vocal after vocal. Tim Mahendran is charming and sweet as virginal playing Francois, while Jordan Luke Gage gives us an entirely fresh take on Romeo.
Melanie La Barrie sounds amazing, particularly in the ‘Teenage Dream’ duet with David Bedella, and Cassidy Janson almost brings the show to a complete standstill with an intoxicatingly beautiful version of ‘That’s The Way It Is’. By the time Miriam-Teak Lee takes to the balcony with ‘Roar’, the audience are in sheer jubilation.
With jukebox musicals there’s always a danger that the songs are just shoehorned in with little thought to how they contribute to the narrative, but here everything just seems to flow perfectly. & Juliet is a pure pop-tastic party and you cannot help but grin with delight as each song finds its way in to Juliet’s new story.
At times it tries to go a little deeper, exploring some themes with the subtlety of a sledgehammer. But chief amongst them is women owning their own story, and that’s something we can all champion in modern theatre. The main reason that this works so well is that the songs are brilliant, and we all already know them, but also that they are given a musical theatre twist and performed by the very best of musical theatre talent.
& Juliet has a strong moral to its story, but it’s also incredibly entertaining and a whole lot of fun. After such a fun filled night at & Juliet we may all be wishing that Anne Hathaway had been in control of the quill, and Max Martin had been around to provide a score.