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Behind the Scenes

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PBS and Great Performances go behind the scenes of National Theatre’s Romeo & Juliet, which had to pivot during the COVID-19 pandemic from a play to the innovative approach of a film about a play.

- Two households, both alike in dignity, in fair Verona, where we lay our scene.

(upbeat, energetic music) - [Simon Godwin] Romeo and Juliet was due to be performed in the Olivet's Theatre in 2020. And then the pandemic hit.

The production, of course, like every other production in the world, was canceled. So we thought, what about trying to make a film of the play?

You'll have a kind of intimate experience.

The way that you would never get in a theater.

- We were all sharing ideas all the time and figuring out what's the world that we're coming from.

- In the script, there were very clear levels to represent the kind of levels of reality.

So in the beginning of our production we have a group of actors seemingly rehearsing, a play.

- [Simon Godwin] And then as the story gains momentum, and the imagination of the actors takes over, we move from a very rough theater context into a much more refined cinematic landscape.

- How doth my Juliet?

- [Simon Godwin] This play is one of Shakespeare's most well loved plays.

Because it hits the peaks of human experience through the passion not only of the lovers, but all the characters.

- It's two people against the odds trying to fight for the love that isn't allowed to live in this world.

- [Man] Let Romeo hence in haste, else when he is found.

That hour is his last.

- [Josh O'Connor] People still love Romeo and Juliet because I think we are still trying to find ways of articulating what love means, and how sort of intoxicating it can be.

(hopeful music) - Give me my Romeo.

(upbeat music inspiring hope)