- & Juliet
In 2018, Emiliahit the stage of Shakespeare's Globe. Morgan Lloyd Malcolm's protagonist became every woman, embodying their collective anger, and social media responded. Emiliawas established as essential viewing, working as a manifesto for a feminist revolution. The act of writing back across textual boundaries functioned as historical recuperation, placing the textual memories of the real Emilia Bassano into the [End Page 278]bodies of modern women. The West End show & Juliet—neon pink, glitter-accented, and set to a soundtrack of teen-pop classics—might seem to be an unlikely counterpart to Emilia. However, David West Read's jukebox musical, based on the chart-topping back catalogue of Max Martin, is just that. Asking "What if Juliet's famous ending was really just her beginning? What if she decided to choose her own fate?" & Julietraises questions about whose stories get told and by whom, and about who controls the narrative. Shakespeare's Juliet, with the assistance of a historically fictionalized Anne Hathaway, has the chance to rewrite her future without Romeo. Like Emilia, & Julietplaces early modern women in conversation with both a modern audience and Shakespeare himself.
& Juliet's links to Baz Lurhmann's Romeo + Juliet(1996) cannot be ignored, with clear nods to 1990s pop culture throughout. Juliet's soundtrack was predominately Britney Spears-based. She entered, slumped against Romeo's tomb, singing a mournful version of Britney's 1998 debut "… Baby One More Time," arranged by Tony Award-winner Bill Sherman. Francois de Bois, her new love interest—a replacement Romeo, if you will—entered playing a Nintendo Game Boy and shared a duet with Juliet, Britney's "Overprotected." The musical's marketing also draws heavily on 1990s nostalgia: a special edition Smash Hitsmagazine handed out at London underground stations marked the production's premiere. The clear target audience is women now in their mid-thirties who grew up reading the magazine, listening to Britney's early hits, and watching Lurhmann's Romeo + Juliet, willing Leonardo DiCaprio's Romeo to notice when Claire Danes's Juliet wakes and craving the fairy-tale ending Shakespeare denied us. & Julietoffers the target market a remix: a second chance at "happily ever after," this time centered not on the Hollywood heartthrob but, as West Read notes in the theater program, "the independent, empowered" Juliet.
Inherently meta-theatrical, & Julietis as much a love letter to theater itself as it is to Romeo and Juliet. From the opening moments, I was aware that Juliet's story was a play within a play. Soutra Gilmour's set design was self-consciously based on Elizabethan theater (specifically, Shoreditch's Curtain). Gilmour took the idea of a disused theater space to frame her design. She created a clear timeline between Shakespeare's London and modern-day Shoreditch, taking inspiration from East London's street art tradition. Artist Vic Lee's text and maps provided backdrops that plotted the musical's journey from the theater in London (both Shakespeare's Curtain and today's Shaftsbury Theatre) to the play's settings of Verona and Paris. The musical's pre-set drew inspiration from the modern-day [End Page 279]Shakespeare's Globe. The Players entered gradually, interacting with the audience as they settled. Costume designer Paloma Young took her lead from actors warming up before a performance: the players wore dancewear with a hint of Elizabethan period costuming, and t-shirts and jackets referencing earlier Shakespearean performances. A spot-lit jukebox placed stage right provided warm-up music and kept & Juliet'sidentity as a jukebox musical at the fore. Shakespeare entered in rock...