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The Filmed Theatre Production of Romeo and Juliet

If performing in a socially distanced manner in a theatre with no live audience for the purposes of a filmed production is difficult for actors and creatives, consider this for a challenge, set down by the production team of this version of Romeo and Juliet: actors were, the show’s programme says, “shooting their scenes individually on a green screen with perhaps a piece of tape on a wall [as a] reference marker”. Even without knowing that this was how the challenges of filming under Covid-19 related restrictions were overcome, this is a decent effort.
The Filmed Theatre Production of Romeo and Juliet
Two hours and twenty-five minutes is a little much to sit through in one sitting. That said, seasoned cinemagoers manage this on a regular basis, once time for pre-screening adverts and trailers has been factored in, and as someone who has lamented the brevity of some online productions recently, perhaps your reviewer doth protest too much.

This Shakespeare play has been reset to the ‘near future’, an imagined dystopia in which – wait for it – no theatres at all have survived the lasting effects of the pandemic. Romeo (Sam Tutty) makes use of his smartphone early on in proceedings, but at some point simply stops using it, which seems rather odd in later scenes. For instance, when he is ‘banishéd’ from the city, he could surely have had Zoom calls or FaceTime with Juliet (Emily Redpath) even if they could not legitimately meet in person.

I did wonder why this, of all the Bard’s plays, was chosen as a lockdown project. It wasn’t until Act V Scene II that I noticed something (sort of) relatable to our times. A letter from the Friar (Vinta Morgan) could not get to Romeo because, “Suspecting that we both were in a house / Where the infectious pestilence did reign / [The local authorities] Seal’d up the doors, and would not let us forth”. Still, given that Romeo has a phone, they could have called him.

The inability to match up a late sixteenth-century script with an early twenty-first-century scenario aside, it is otherwise a relatively faithful rendering, and given how radical some reinterpretations of the play have been over the years, this one shouldn’t frustrate secondary school teachers showing it to their GCSE English classes too much. An early scene overdoes it with dramatic music swelling long before anybody has actually engaged in battle. Some may find the fighting scenes not as thrilling as what they would have encountered in other productions, but again there is only so much that can be done at a time of social distancing.

Some of the backdrops look a little garish, and the cast has been reduced somewhat, though not, in the end, problematically so: there is no Lady Montague nor Lord Capulet, for instance, with lines for those characters taken on by Lord Montague (Marc Ozall) and Lady Capulet (Helen Anker). It works, though, and in such a way that nobody is effectively having a conversation with themselves.

The actors in the title roles, mind you, are nothing short of brilliant. Redpath’s Juliet comes of age as the show progresses, occasionally obstinate but always likeable nonetheless. Tutty, meanwhile, is as good at Shakespeare as he has proven himself to be at musical theatre (having won Best Actor in a Musical at the 2020 Olivier Awards). He does it right, taking time to warm up and building to an emotional and dramatic crescendo.

The dramatic pauses would undoubtedly work better in front of a live audience in a theatre setting. The fainthearted may take some comfort in the complete lack of blood (real or fake) in evidence here. This is an ambitious project, and it’s as good an achievement as could be accomplished given the restrictions and guidelines in force at the time of filming.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Metcalfe Gordon Productions, the producers of the new filmed theatre production of William Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet starring Sam Tutty and Emily Redpath in the title roles and Sir Derek Jacobi as the Narrator, are delighted to announce that they are extending its release. The production, which utilised new, cutting edge technology to produce and film the show under current restrictions and regulations, will now be available from Saturday 13 to Saturday 27 February 2021.

As well as Tutty, Redpath and Jacobi, also in the cast are Brandon Bassir as Mercutio, Daniel Bowerbank as Benvolio, Jonny Labey as Paris, Sylvester Akinrolabu as Tybalt, Helen Anker as Capulet, Marc Ozall as Montague, Lucy Tregear as Nurse, Vinta Morgan as Friar, Jessica Murrain as Prince, Timmy Driscoll as Sam, Tats Nyazika as Gregory, Iskandar Eaton as Abe and Ollie Tennant as Balthasar.

Romeo & Juliet is directed by Nick Evans, with assistant direction by Gwenan Bain, edited by Ryan Metcalfe, production design by Jamie Osborne for Preevue, costume design by Natasha Bowles, original music by Sam Dinley, sound design by Olly Steel, lighting design by Elliot Smith, visual effects by Preevue, production management by Gary Beestone and casting by Jim Arnold CDG.

13th – 27th February 2021

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