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Josh O'Connor and Jessie Buckley discuss the National Theatre's Romeo and Juliet film

The show will premiere on Sky Arts tonight

Josh O'Connor and Jessie Buckley in Romeo and Juliet
© Rob Youngson

Ahead of tonight's premiere of the National's Romeo and Juliet (filmed on the venue's Lyttelton stage in December) the two leading stars Josh O'Connor and Jessie Buckley run through the process of creating the piece in the midst of lockdown and, more broadly, how they've adjusted to the turbulent previous 12 months of the pandemic.

O'Connor, who wowed with his performance as Prince Charles in The Crown, was quick to brand the piece (being broadcast at 9pm on Sky Arts, with repeat airings on Monday and Thursday) "one of the most magical experiences in my career", with Buckley (Judy) stating that, while she "didn't really know if I wanted to do a film version, to be honest, I was too scared. We didn't know what it would be...it was a new canvas, like the cinema world and the theatre world were meeting."

This sense of trepidation towards the experience was something both seemed to overcome – O'Connor admitted that "initially I was like, God, to be honest, the last play I want to do, is Romeo and Juliet. But one of the big draws, the pair admit, was the director Simon Godwin. As O'Connor puts it: "You walk into the room and there's no hierarchy with Simon. There's no ego. It's really extraordinary. He opens up the room and everyone's voice is heard and everyone's voice is valid."

Buckley also emphasises how important it was to make the show in the current climate, when venues across the UK are locked down: "it felt like a lost place...but we used our imagination to find a way to crack the cement house down and make something live again." O'Connor adds: "we felt like we were sort of flying the flag for all the brilliant theatre people in the UK and around the world. And it felt exciting – like a moment in time that will never happen again."

This moment brings both anxiety and excitement for those in the theatre community. Buckley states: "I think pre pandemic post pandemic, we've got to be conscious of how we transcend this moment and how we move forward and nurture work...I'm really excited about the kind of art that's going to come out with this moment. Even just the way we are talking to each other or friends, it feels like there is a different kind of creative hunger."

More importantly, she states that she can't wait to be back in front of live audiences: "We've all had our first experiences of falling in love with this, you know, with storytelling through theatre and the kind of magic that comes with that. As I was saying to Josh, my favourite moment that I miss in the theatre is that moment of silence just a curtain goes up, when an audience collectively goes quiet."

You can read our interview with Buckley and O'Connor's co-stars Tamsin Greig and Fisayo Akinade as well as director Simon Godwin here.

Romeo and Juliet will premiere on Easter Sunday 4th April at 9pm on Sky Arts. Sky Arts is free-to-air and available for everyone in the UK on Freeview channel 11. There are repeat showings on Easter Monday 5 April at 9.30pm and Thursday 8 April at 10pm.

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