A year into a global pandemic, and theatres, cinemas and venues are still shut in most places around the world. Throughout this time, arts organisations have become more creative in the ways they bring their performances and shows to the public. Many resorted to the live-broadcasting on YouTube, but the National Theatre took it a step further than that. Their highly anticipated show of Romeo and Juliet, starring Josh O’Connor and Jessie Buckley, was meant to be performed in front of live audiences when the pandemic put a stop to it. Instead of letting that halt the entire production, the National Theatre created a blend of film and theatre we hadn’t seen before.
Instead of simply filming a live performance (and let’s be real, we would have probably all watched that as well), they decided to create a full-blown theatre-film hybrid, setting the story on and around the stage. Romeo and Juliet starts off with a shot of the actors in rehearsal – something the film cuts back to throughout the story – which is a beautiful reminder that we are, in fact, in a theatre. Similarly, the sets are beautifully constructed, leaving elements of the theatre bare, while still transporting you into another world.
The entire play was rehearsed together with the cinematographer and the results are breathtaking. The camera moves effortlessly between the actors and scenes, allowing us to view the emotions and drama of the story in a whole new way. Each shot is clearly carefully constructed and makes the film a joy to look at. The accompanying score by Michael Bruce adds to the whole viewing experience and adds even more emotional depth to each scene.
However, the real stars of Romeo and Juliet are the actors, with O’Connor and Buckley creating a fresh and modern take on characters we know so well. The supporting cast similarly shines, with Tamsin Greig as Lady Capulet giving a particularly amazing performance. The only critique of the film would be its running length: with an hour and a half, much of the original play has been cut out. While this perhaps allows for easier at-home viewing, it does mean the supporting cast doesn’t get nearly as much to do as they deserve, and we have to make do with mere glimpses of the characters.
Overall, the National Theatre has proven theatre and film can blend amazingly well, taking elements from each art form and creating a whole new concept. In doing so, they not only managed to bring a bit of the theatre we all miss so much to people’s homes, but also to bring a wholly new perspective to one of the most famous stories of all time.
Romeo and Juliet will be repeated on Sky Arts on the 8th of April and will be available in the US on 23 April.