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Metcalfe Gordon Productions' take on Shakespeare stars Sam Tutty and Emily Redpath


BWW Review: ROMEO AND JULIET, OnlineAs a very different Valentines Day looms for people in the UK, Metcalfe Gordon Productions have created a unique digital version of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, directed by Nick Evans. The online production has been stitched together so that the viewer is fooled into thinking that the performers are all present in the same room.

The dramatic classic stars Sam Tutty and Emily Redpath in the title roles. Forming a COVID-tested "bubble", the pair are the only actors who perform together in the same frame. The rest of the cast appear to stand on-screen together thanks to the magic of green screen.

Filmed over twelve days, this production captured individual performances and blended them together in the editing room (notably impressive work by Ryan Metcalfe, co-producer and director of photography). The illusion certainly is convincing for the most part, if a little clunky during the odd transition between scenes.

The backdrop of this version of the star-crossed lovers' tale is set in the near future, where communities have inhabited empty theatres that sadly never reopened for their original purpose - we certainly hope that isn't a prophecy of what's to come! With the inclusion of masks in certain scenes, this certainly is a Romeo and Juliet for pandemic times.

This version of the play takes place in a digitally reconstructed version of the Manchester Palace Theatre. Derek Jacobi's opening monologue in the vast empty auditorium has a solemn gravity to it. Not only is this the well-known prologue to the tragic tale, it is also combined with the sad truth that we can't witness this show in person.

The romantic and gothic-esque set design by Jamie Osborne is full of sweeping arches and stairwells, a set that would have been a feat to build for an in-person production, let alone a digital one. Sam Dilney's score creates dramatic undertones with a modern feel to match the costume design by Natasha Bowles.

Throughout, however, the play feels more like it is set in a video game because of the high degree of CGI content which this viewer found quite distracting. The scenes took place in so many different locations, just because they could, so it was difficult to concentrate because there was so much to look at. Online theatre sits in a grey area where it's not an in-person performance, but it's not necessarily a film either. I wasn't quite sure what this version was trying to be.

That said, the performances were generally excellent, particularly with the foreknowledge that almost all of the cast had to deliver their lines to camera solo. Tutty saunters around the screen as Romeo, philosophising on the hardships of young love. Redpath strikes an excellent balance between the sweet and stubborn facets of her performance as Juliet.

The creative team have generously given half of the cast their professional debut in this production. Additionally, Lucy Tregear makes a fine Nurse and Vinta Morgan an excellent and endearing Friar among others in the company.

Cleverly crafted for COVID times, this version of Romeo & Juliet really shows what can be done with the technology we have today. Its ambitious attempt to be starkly different from other online productions of late slightly misses the mark. It's dark and brooding tone doesn't quite tick all the boxes for a cosy date night in for me.

Romeo and Juliet available online from 13 February

Check out our guest blog from Ryan Metcalfe about the production

Photo credit: Ben Purkiss

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