Last weekend, I went to see the joyous jukebox musical & Juliet for the third time and started to wonder why I hadn’t yet reviewed it. I saw it once on its preview run at the Manchester Opera House, and once more on its official opening night at the Shaftesbury Theatre in London, so I already knew that my sister would love it when I bought tickets as a birthday treat for her. As Andrzej Lukowski said at the start of his review for Time Out, if you go in knowing that this musical is “a heavily ironic Shakespeare rewrite based on the songs of super-producer Max Martin […] you’ll probably like & Juliet almost precisely as much as you expect to like & Juliet.” Even if you don’t recognise his name, a quick look at Max Martin’s Wikipedia page will show that you definitely know his songs because they’ve been performed by the likes of Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears, Pink, Jessie J, Katy Perry and The Weeknd. So, if you don’t like irreverent Shakespeare adaptations or pop music, this definitely isn’t the show for you.
I won’t tell you much about the plot, because I went in knowing nothing on my first visit and there were so many delightful surprises that I really don’t want to spoil any of it for you. Suffice to say that this is Romeo & Juliet re-written, at the request of Shakespeare’s wife, so that Juliet doesn’t die and that’s just the beginning of her story. The performances are glorious – I especially enjoyed Miriam-Teak Lee as Juliet, Cassidy Janson as Anne Hathaway, and Melanie La Barrie as the nurse – the inclusion of queer characters is an absolute joy to behold, plus the choice and placement of the songs is sometimes hilarious, often heartwarming, and occasionally so powerful you may just cry. With costumes, choreography and lighting that are as high energy as the music, I defy you to leave the theatre without a smile on your face.