Shakespeare in a pandemic: “Without touching, you can not have Romeo and Juliet!”


Before the embrace, plexiglas displays, CGI backdrops and covid checks… Emily Redpath and Sam Tutty show how they filmed a new Romeo and Juliet

“Sam Tutty is used to “tap-tap-tapping on the mirror” as the isolated teenager in Dear Evan Hansen, as he sang in Waving Through a Window.

But in the latest production by the Olivier Award-winning star, a modern take on Romeo and Juliet, that was literally the case.

In the filmed theater performance directed by Nick Evans, set in the aftermath of a pandemic, Tutty and Emily Redpath play the ill-fated couple in love.

In the production, the coronavirus is never mentioned, but the masquerade ball scene features the kind of modern facial disguises we have become used to. The actors had intermittent fever tests during November rehearsals in London and kept themselves socially distant, sometimes on opposite sides of the screen.

“Whenever we were rehearsing something that involved proximity, we had these big Plexiglas screens,”Whenever we were rehearsing anything that involved closeness, we had these big Plexiglas screens. Actors were separately filmed in front of a green screen, with the exception of the more personal dialogue between the pair, which was shot in one day. “You can’t have Romeo and Juliet without touching,” joked Redpath, who tested Covid with Tutty before those scenes.

The actors spoke their lines to a spot on the wall for the remainder of the shot that showed where the other characters would appear in the final version, using CGI lighting and backdrops, including a stage and auditorium backdrop. Tutty described the project as one of the most difficult ones he’s ever faced since Shakespeare’s language and the close-ups of the camera leave one equally exposed.

“we didn’t have time to worry,”We didn’t have time to worry.

Any of the rehearsals were conducted at Zoom. “Emily and I also did a lot of FaceTime to prepare for the onslaught of text the next day,”Emily and I also did a lot of FaceTime to prepare the next day for the text onslaught. “I would do a scene, go home and learn the scene for the next day. There was no time to learn the whole play; it had to be bite-sized.” Until they were cast, neither actor understood the play very well; Tutty didn’t even document what he was signing up for before he was on his way to rehearsals.

Redpath, who graduated in 2019 from the Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts, called the play’s language “terrifying and beautiful. There’s everything in it.”

All the time, I wanted to weep – and I did! It’s so passionate.
Filming was finished in fourteen days, which is impressive given that none of the actors actually acted together, except for a couple of scenes. One scene features 15 actors in the movie, all filmed speaking their lines in separate studio sessions.

It all proves, says Tutty, how adaptable British theater has been during the pandemic’s challenges. It’s an amazing reflection on how adaptable our industry is. In about a month, we went “It’s incredible reflection on how adaptable our industry is. We went digital in about a month.”

Redpath acknowledged that the Web has provided theatre lovers and producers with access and resources, adding that the industry needs to take this opportunity to transform and reboot in a more secure and inclusive manner.

The project was finished so quickly that the actors hardly had time to get to know each other, and there were no farewell drinks or embraces to say goodbye because it was a pandemic film.

Later this year, Romeo + Juliet, from Metcalfe Gordon Productions, is expected to hit theaters.


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