As Prince Charles in The Crown, Josh O’Connor transfixingly suggested a brooding old head on youngish shoulders, in a way that commandingly banished dullness.
The same subtlety of that Golden Globe-winning performance is fully in evidence in his contribution to Simon Godwin’s ravishing, revelatory account of Romeo and Juliet. O’Connor proves he has the power to be a swoon-making heart-throb without losing his pensive intensity (albeit fans of The Crown may do double-takes during the early, recognisable flashes of bleak dolefulness, before a more varied quality of characterisation enters his portrayal).
At 30, the star is no spring chicken but he balances that edge of maturity with a scintillating, tender sensitivity. Matched for expressiveness by Jessie Buckley’s Juliet, the result is the paciest, raciest version of the play since Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 film.
A production conceived pre-pandemic for a packed National Theatre has been ingeniously re-worked to make the most of the cultural Chernobyl that the NT has become, a deserted creative engine-room. The acting company are like interlopers into a chilly sepulchral realm. The film cameras watch the troupe file in, then observe from an empty Lyttleton auditorium as they’re swallowed behind the iron (safety) curtain.
Verona is conjured, minimally but beautifully, with whatever’s to hand (and the odd furnishing add-on) in the backstage world we never normally see, right down to the bowels of the building. 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.