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Romeo and Juliet – Metcalf Gordon Productions

Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

Writer: William Shakespeare

Director: Nick Evans

After almost a year of watching theatre online as plain Zoom boxes developed new kinds of backdrops, and changing restrictions allowed actors to rehearse, bubble and film on location, Director Nick Evans and Editor Ryan Metcalf have found another way to create a story. Their version of Romeo and Juliet places individually filmed actors against a CGI backdrop to create a production that is like nothing we have yet seen in response to the pandemic.

Forced to live in the rooms of a theatre by an apocalyptic event, interloper Romeo spots the beautiful Juliet at a family party and the pair fall instantly in love, but their rival families would never permit a union. Against an environment of male violence, the pair are determined to be together, yet their impetuousness brings a terrible toll.

This Metcalf Gordon Productions version of Romeo and Juliet does not lack ambition and is a real attempt to innovate. The technical intricacy of creating this complex graphic world by painstakingly layering images with multiple filmed performances is admirable, especially in sustaining this for a full 2.5 hour production of Shakespeare’s famous play, rehearsed and filmed in only a few days.

The technical skill aside, visually, using a lot of CGI results in a slightly hollow feel, an animated appearance that results in few of the scenes looking entirely real, distracting from rather than fleshing out the story. Too often, the viewer is looking at the joins – are any of the actors filmed together? what part of the imaginary theatre are the characters in? why is everyone so strangely spaced when they are digitally positioned? – which does take attention away from the character connections and performances.

Framed as a pandemic story in which these families have moved into an abandoned theatre, the post- catastrophe concept is contrasted by the richness of some of the visual choices. And like the National Theatre’s most recent version of Macbeth how any form of aristocracy and society outlived this major disaster entirely intact makes little sense – but the theatre setting is really a tribute to closures.

The actors have a tough job, rehearsing together but largely performing in front of a green screen directing their performances at an x on the floor or wall. As a result, some of the play’s context feels a little thin. Unable to prowl and circle each other, the bubbling violence between Romeo, Mercutio and Tybalt never convinces and the spark of danger that ignites the lovers and shapes their destiny is undercut.

Where Evans’ production excels is in the romantic connection between Romeo and Juliet as well as the desperation and pain their relationship creates, aided by the genuine proximity of Emily Redpath and Sam Tutty in the title roles. The comparison of these more effective scenes where the leads garner considerable energy from one another and those where actors are filmed separately is notable.

Redpath struggles with the emotional pitch of Juliet’s early monologues but excels in the exchanges with Romeo, treading the line between innocence and eager anticipation as they fall in love. Redpath’s greatest scene is with Lucy Tregear’s Nurse as Juliet contends with the news of Tybalt’s death at Romeo’s hand that captures well the changes of mood and Juliet’s divided loyalties.

Tutty’s Romeo gives the verse a natural, modern feel and develops a chemistry with Redpath that helps the audience to believe in the lovers. This Romeo feels too laid back for some of the more vicious impulses that define his path but Tutty is especially good at conveying the growing romance with Juliet and, later, the pain of self-destruction that leads to the famous conclusion.

There is a lot to admire in the approach to Romeo and Juliet that advances the digital response to theatre closures, and while the finished piece doesn’t quite marry those strands together, just seeing a creative team explore the possibilities is interesting in itself. In creating this full-length film, Evans and Metcalf have come a long way and CGI may yet have a role to play in the future of hybrid theatre.

Runs here until 27 February 2021

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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