WORTH A LOOK?: *****
WHEN?: 9pm Sunday 4 April 2021
WHERE?: Sky Arts
RUNTIME: 90 minutes
When the National Theatre announced that Josh O’Connor and Jessie Buckley were set to star in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet at the venue in summer 2020, it was set to be 1 of the season’s highlights.
- Read on for reasons including how a gay couple played by Fisayo Akinade and Shubham Saraf are crucial to the tragedy
Covid-19 lay waste to those plans but the decision to film a version at the venue during 17 days in December is a welcome one because it salvages something from those hotly-anticipated plans.
This filmed version is not a straight play although it opens with Lucian Msamati’s (Talking Heads, Bridge Theatre) scene setting about the rival houses of Montague and Capulet in ‘fair Verona’.
The cast is in modern day clothing and on a stage as if in rehearsal. We meet Buckley’s (The Winter’s Tale, Garrick Theatre) spirited Juliet as she is instructed who to marry but falls instead for O’Connor’s (a Golden Globe-winning Prince Charles in The Crown) straightforward, heroic Romeo who is captivated by her singing during a well-staged and costumed masked party.
The couple are surrounded by a strong supporting cast of National Theatre regulars including Fisayo Akinade (Barber Shop Chronicles, National Theatre) as a gay Mercutio whose fate propels the tragic events unfolding. His relationship with Benvolio (a strong Shubham Saraf, An Adventure, Bush Theatre) casts a new light on his fate.
Director Simon Godwin (Twelfth Night, National Theatre) has created a film which has its roots on the stage but is visually striking as well as making use of darkness and shadow to conjure up a forbidding atmosphere.
Despite the historic nature of the story, the threat of gangs and knife crime feel like a problem with which London is already grappling.
Covid-19 has caused all sorts of problems for theatre and at a time when social distancing means venues remain shut this is exactly the sort of celluloid representation and experimentation that former audiences will very much appreciate.