Updated: Feb 14, 2021
William Shakespeare's legendary Romeo & Juliet is, without a doubt, one of the most famous stories ever told. It has survived through the Centuries, being adapted as times change - so it is very fitting that it now joins the latest medium we have been using to consume theatre in digital form.
The past 11 months has seen new and increasingly creative innovations to ensure we can still get a fix of theatre in our lives - what started out as a fairly standard way of capturing shows to stream virtually soon evolved in clever ways. Romeo & Juliet tries something new with this technology and brings us into a virtual world full of CGI backgrounds.
The innovation can't be faulted and the creators of it, led by director Nick Evans and produced by Ryan Metcalfe and Simon Gordon, should be commended for such an ingenius way to bring this production to life in Covid secure ways, given all of the challenges thrown at them during a global pandemic and another lockdown. Unfortunately, the execution of this sometimes falls short during the production - the backgrounds at times look artificial and some of the effects cause glitches. This does lead to being taken out of the moment and losing that much needed sense of escapism theatre provides.
The production is led by the Olivier award winning star of Dear Evan Hansen Sam Tutty as Romeo, with Emily Redpath playing Juliet. The pair have undeniable chemistry which bounces off the screen with Tutty using his experience crying every night in his award winning turn as Evan Hansen to full effect, leaving us with an emotional portrayal as Romeo. The pair are joined by a wonderful supporting cast including Jonny Labey as Paris, Daniel Bowerbank as Benvolio, Lucy Tregear as Nurse and Brandon Bassir as Mercutio - with a cameo appearance from Sir Derek Jacobi bookending the show as Narrator.
Aside from a couple of necessary intimate scenes Tutty and Redpath filmed together over the course of a day, the rest of the cast filmed this separately. The use of technology then interlaced them together so it looked like they were appearing on the same screen. A special mention must go to all of the cast who must have found it strange to have conversations with nobody responding to them. They don't let on over the unusuality of the situation and still give the performance their all. Unfortunately, technology can only go so far and at times it does become obvious they filmed separately due to visible effects on the screen.
The show is modernised in several aspects. While there is no amendments to the words Shakespeare wrote, the cast are all in modern clothing and there are uses of current technology such as smart phones, iPads and even an Alexa device present throughout. The pandemic even gets a nod with cast members regularly appearing wearing face masks and taking them off again - though this does feel random at times.
Romeo & Juliet starts by telling us theatres are no longer in use and are now the homes of wealthy families and urban gangs - a nice touch that opens with a lingering shot of an empty theatre - something that never fails to break my heart given the current circumstances of them. This piece is set in an abandoned theatre based on the design of the Manchester Palace. The use of space is stunning and one of the biggest strengths of the production. The action doesn't all take place on the stage. Like Curve Leicester's recent production of Sunset Boulevard, the whole theatre gets used. One such highlight is Juliet performing her iconic balcony scene from a Box.
The idea behind this production and the use of cutting-edge technology should really be commended. Anyone using this challenging time to create new pieces of theatre for the masses to enjoy has my utmost respect - especially when they try something as new and groundbreaking as this. That said, perhaps the aim of this production was a bit too grand. It left me wondering if a less is more approach might have benefited this particular show? Having the action taking place on a stage without any CGI backgrounds may have worked in its favour as losing the sense of escapism and being brought back to reality due to uneven effects isn't what any of us need right now.
This isn't a bad production in the slightest - its letdowns actually add to its charm. At the heart of it, it is a decent adaptation of a famous tale - with fantastic performances from its stellar cast, beautifully shot with gorgeous lighting and a groundbreaking use of technology. Keeping its cast and crew safe was the cause of some of the challenges of this production which have been dealt with as effectively as possible. However, I'd be lying if I said this particular production doesn't have its flaws. If you are looking for a bit of romance or a bit of tragedy this Valentines Day weekend, you definitely can't go wrong with this.
Romeo & Juliet is available to stream from Saturday 13th until Saturday 27th February. Tickets are available from https://www.romeojuliet2021.com/