Two households, both alike in lockdown, in fair living rooms where we lay our scene. Well, where the National Theatre lay their scene, anyway – they’re treating us to a night at the theatre with a new performance of Romeo and Juliet, staring Josh O’Connor and Jessie Buckley.
It’s always a bit of a risky job adapting the theatre for screen, and in our mission to bring you the best TV during the pandemic, we’ve seen more than one instance in which it hasn’t worked, and the slight overacting that works perfectly on the stage becomes a cringe fest reminiscent of home videos of secondary school plays. But this one has it nailed. Instead of doing your standard live recording, they’ve adapted the play especially for the screen, keeping the theatricals we know and love, but softening them slightly by adding in exciting camera angles and gorgeous lighting, to bring Shakespeare’s timeless tale to the telly. And in the talented company of O’Connor and Buckley, Verona never looked better.
Though it’s somewhat lacking the cobbled streets and sun-soaked piazzas of Italy. In fact, when we open we feel as though we are watching behind the scenes footage of the rehearsal room, with the cast in what looks like WFH uniforms of joggers and jumpers. But swiftly we move into a smoky party scene and are introduced to Buckley’s lively and charming Juliet, who has Romeo’s heart captured from their first meeting.
Whilst the two leads put on a stellar performance, they’re not the only star(crossed lover)s of this show – Tamsin Greig is superb as the cunning Lady Capulet, whilst Deborah Findlay is the perfect person to play the play’s warmest character, The Nurse. And with these brilliant performances and the immersive feel of the production, we almost forget we’re watching a mid-pandemic, find-a-way-to-keep-theatre-alive type performance, and sink fully into the romantic world of Shakespeare’s lovers.
The Guardian’s Arifa Akbar thinks, “artistically it is just exquisite,” saying “Emily Burns’s adaptation is sleek and at times feels lean but that is a necessary sacrifice for tension and pace.” And The Telegraph’s Dominic Cavendish thinks it was a good call to film Romeo and Juliet in the “bowels” of the National Theatre building, saying “what might have been a dutiful exercise of artistic salvage becomes an interpretative masterstroke: not just a love-letter to our flagship venue (and all who sail behind her) but an affirmation of the power of the imagination, and the way cinematography can get close to the beating heart of a theatrical experience.”
And Natasha Tripney of The Stage agrees, saying “this adaptation succeeds on its own terms; though it works on screen, it remains rooted in the theatre, a film with the stage in its veins.”
First shown April 2021. You can watch the trailer here: