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THEATRE ONLINE New light shines on star-crossed lovers

MARY CONWAY recommends an online version of Romeo and Juliet where performers and technology combine in a hugely innovative production

Romeo and Juliet
National Theatre

THIS thrilling new production of Romeo and Juliet shows how during lockdown necessity can spawn invention and take us into a reimagined future for theatre.

Shakespeare’s words are only one facet of an innovative and hugely daring work that embraces a team of actors, a continuous nerve-rattling score, an intimacy that only the camera can provide and a narrative worthy of the ancient Greeks.

The play is chopped to a mere 95 minutes, but what it loses of Shakespeare’s human analysis, it gains as a simple exposition of the nature of  life itself.

Directed by the impressive Simon Godwin, this production is not about the evils of society, nor the heartache of young and passionate love. Rather, it takes us speedily and concisely through a story in which the characters are powerless to shape their destiny and in which anarchic fate takes them where it will. It’s  terrifying but hugely believable.

The team of actors are splendid, presenting themselves as an ordinary bunch of jobbing performers, with just a subtle hint that romance is already on the cards between he who plays Romeo and she who plays Juliet.

Declamatory delivery is out, with the characters speaking intimately to each other as though no audience is present except for the most poignant and tragic moments, when other players lurk in the shadows and solemnly watch.

Tim Siddell’s camerawork is a revelation, taking us at all angles into the most private of exchanges, while Michael Bruce’s ceaseless soundtrack evolves from a discordant, threatening whisper to operatic dirges and weeping violins where the poetry soars.

Adrian Lester as the Prince commands the only voice of reason in the play, while Josh O’Connor and a boldly Irish-accented Jessie Buckley as the star-crossed lovers open their bleeding hearts for all to see.

These are two exquisite performances, wonderfully enhanced by those of Lucien Msamati as Friar Laurence, Fisayo Akinade as a gay Mercutio and Deborah Findlay as a bravely naturalistic Nurse while, as Lady Capulet, Tamsin Greig is starkly unfeeling and imperious.

The whole has a dream-like quality, its violence raw and deadly, its events shockingly and irrationally forming a coherent whole.

This is a production for new audiences and, while purists may miss a reverence for Shakespeare’s full text, it shows us the infinite potential for artistic endeavour in a brave new world where technology and actors work in harmony.

Available on Sky Arts.

 

 

 

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