Review: Romeo and Juliet (2021)

There have been a lot of screen adaptations of Romeo and Juliet, going back to silent film days – so any new version has to bring something new to the table.

Nick Evans’s version, featuring rising stars Sam Tutty and Emily Redpath as the titular lovers, has a setting “in the near future”. It features a mix of virtual locations both indoors and out: an interesting idea, but often distracting.

The play survives, as it invariably does whatever it thrown at it. Redpath is a fairly feisty Juliet at the start, while Tutty takes time to warm up: by the moment of the double murder he starts to show the energy coiled deep within the classic Montague-Capulet feud.

I enjoyed some nods to modern times: face masks, of course, fit with the ball in which the young lovers first meet. It isn’t as flashy as the Luhrmann film of 25 years ago, but these are definitely modern youths seeking their first steps in the world.

Emily Redpath and Sam Tutty in Romeo and Juliet

Brandon Bassir is a memorable Mercutio, the free spirit who leads the trio to the halfway point. Vinta Morgan’s Friar and Lucy Tregear’s Nurse add gravitas to the adult roles, with Derek Jacobi adding to the tradition of theatrical elders as the Chorus.

As an adaptation, I felt the text was served well enough, but I missed the heightened emotion I’ve seen in other versions. This is love, passionate and all-encompassing, and it doesn’t quite get there for me.

The conceit of young people heading into love and tragedy so quickly often stutters in a modern setting, but the balcony scene is touching, and the tomb’s spectral visitors add to the believability of the final scenes.

What this Romeo and Juliet brings to life is a perennial theatre text staged initially in a ghostly mothballed venue. The scenes in empty spaces usually occupied by audiences who laugh and cry, fidget and applaud highlight the enforced pause in the arts we all – creatives or observers – are waiting to end.

Emily Redpath in Romeo and Juliet

The cast here never set foot in a theatre or any of the other places for this production, nor did they appear together – but now and again a synergy of performance, tech and location is achieved. It is experimental but explores what might be achieved when place is restricted.

This is not necessarily a version for those new to the play as a first choice: but I enjoyed the gender swaps of Jessica Murrain’s Prince and Helen Anker’s Capulet; and the quiet observance of Daniel Bowerbank’s Benvolio.

Romeo and Juliet is produced by Ryan Metcalfe (who also edits the piece) and Simon Gordon. It is an inclusive and diverse production which should please those who wish to see something taking technological risks with a classic piece.

Romeo and Juliet is streaming at various times from 13-27 February. You can purchase tickets here.

Image credits: Ryan Metcalfe/Preevue

LouReviews received complimentary access to review Romeo and Juliet.

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