Summer’s here and the time is right (for La Dolce Shakespeare?)

for Shakespeare in the streets… and on stage… and on screen… and in the park… and in the dark.

Last night, I was able to check out the cinema broadcast of Kenneth Branagh’s directorial adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, currently running at the Garrick in London. Next week, I’m going to check out the Kingsmen Shakespeare Festival opening of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The following week, I’ll be seeing Richard III in Griffith Park in Los Angeles in a production by the Independent Shakespeare Company.

Oh, then at the end of the month, it’s time for my yearly jaunt up to Ashland for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, for The Winter’s Tale, Timon of Athens, Hamlet, Richard II, and Twelfth Night.

Exciting times…

As for last night’s Branagh-directed Romeo and Juliet cinema broadcast:

Stylishly done, with an almost La Dolce Vita vibe, set in post WWII Italy, filled with music, (funnily stereotypical) yelling locals, and sumptuous black-and-white cinematography (I’m wondering what the effect of seeing it live and in color would have been).

Easily the funniest R&J I’ve seen: and that’s a good thing. Special kudos to Meera Syal’s Nurse and Kathryn Wilder’s Peter…absolutely hilarious. Wonderful timing (and some great bawdiness to boot).

Now for what some will want to criticize: Derek Jacobi as Mercutio. Some will say, Jeez, isn’t he a little long in the tooth to be playing this character? And at first I thought that, but the performance–filled with a feigned nonchalance that belied some repressed bitterness–won me over quickly. Playing Mercutio comically and a little fey (with all the colors of that word) brought a different dimension to the role, and it got me thinking: have we seen a female Mercutio yet? Is there any reason why we haven’t? It could work.

On to the leads: Richard Madden (Robb Stark from Game of Thrones) and Lily James (from Downton Abbey) acquit themselves well. Neither makes a case for a definitive performance, but neither one embarrasses themselves, either. Their meeting and balcony scenes were inventively staged and wonderfully charming. And the plus side of having such young matinee-idol-esque performers was the crowd at the movie-house last night. Much larger than I’ve seen for many Shakespeare broadcasts, and MUCH younger… I’d say a solid 50% of the audience was under the age of 30. If it takes pop performers to bring in a younger crowd, I’m all for it.

The first half of the production is much stronger than the second; much of this is due, I think, to the fun(ny) aspect of that portion of the play. The second half is much darker, and I felt the leads struggled with that a little (both seem to play sadness and torment similarly–as if hit suddenly with stomach cramps and a need to bury their faces in their hands).

Branagh does some weird cutting near the end: he shows the “funeral” for the “dead” Juliet, but after Friar Laurence sees that Friar John hasn’t been able to deliver the message to Romeo…and all this is before Romeo receives word from Balthasar. And woe to the guy who would have wanted to play the apothecary–that role was cut altogether. Friar Laurence doesn’t make it to the tomb until all the deaths are done and the watchers have arrived. I’m supposing that this was to show us the headlong rush fate was pushing…but I’m not sure it worked.

All told, though, this was a solid production: more fun than I expected (which easily made up for the less sadness I felt at the end).

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