I have been looking forward to this play ever since the Kenneth Branagh company announced their year in theatre last year. I’ve tried to convince my cousin earlier this year ,when we went to London, to try to fit in this play in our schedule. But since there were only two seats available and they were not next to each other, he decided to pass on it. I was not overly upset about not seeing it live since I knew it was going to be broadcasted in the cinema just over a month later.
The other reason I wanted to see this play was because I had seen the chemistry between Richard Madden and Lily James already when they were the romantic leads in Cinderella. I was hoping that this chemistry would show up in Romeo & Juliet even more.
When the broadcast started we heard Kenneth Branagh tell us why he chose to cast Derek Jacobi as Mercutio. When this was said I was like “Isn’t he a bit old to be Romeo’s cousin and kinsman?”, but after hearing the story about how a few youngsters arriving in Paris had an amusing night with an older man in a bar and then to find out that that older man was Oscar Wilde only made it fit that Mercutio is played by someone older.
What can I say, casting Derek Jacobi really was a brilliant idea. He really is one of those British gems and now because of him doing this role I would like to see older actors doing this part more .
I really loved this version of the story. The setting was completely in 1950s style, with Italian spoken in between to give the feeling that it was really set in Verona.
Normally this is one of those stories that no matter how many times I’ve seen it, makes me cry at the end of the story. Not this time! Weirdly enough I have never laughed this much with Romeo and Juliet. (The reason I didn’t cry was that the actors didn’t even try to hide their breathing although they were dead – You should see their chest go).
But coming back on the laughing part. The balcony scene which is so famous and everyone knows a sentence here or there of this scene. This time, though they made Juliet tipsy (or even drunk) with her entering on the balcony still drinking from a bottle of wine. This gives a totally different view on this scene and makes it almost slapstick comedy.
In every version of Romeo and Juliet I have one actor and one role that sticks out. In the Douglas Booth version of a few years back it was father Lawrence that was on point. But here in this play, it was Nurse and Mercutio. Nurse was so on point and so funny and flirty that I would love to have her as my confident and friend. Mercutio, well, that’s all Derek Jacobi’s vibe.
Richard Madden, the poor fella, had hurt his ankle a few days earlier but you wouldn’t see it, the way he was running over the stage. He was a great Romeo. Lily James as Juliet was quite funny bit sometimes a bit overly ditzy. Not all 14-year-olds are that clingy and ignorant. But that might have been a directing choice. I don’t know that. The chemistry between them was obvious to see and that’s the reason why they were first “a couple” in Cinderella and I think that it’s also why they were chosen to do this play. As both are Kenneth Branagh productions, it is most likely linked.
But all in all a very agreeable night at the cinema. The play is still running in London till half of August. If you don’t have a chance to see it, try to catch one of the broadcast versions or if they already broadcasted in your country, hope they do an encore.