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Kenneth Branagh's Romeo & Juliet, broadcast from the Garrick Theater, London, a performance recorded summer, 2016. A lot of bad ideas. No single one of them would have killed it but the concatenation drove me out of the theater. It isn't necessarily a terrible idea to update the production to the 1950s (after all, what else is West Side Story?). It seems unnecessary to try to make the production visually reminiscent of an Italian film, but I might have gone along if the effect had been persuasive. Snippets of dialog in Italian, okay (but why bother?). Song and dance numbers, again, we've already got West Side Story in the repertory. Casting one of Romeo's posse with a very much older actor than the others: I don't reject it. Folks of different generations can indeed be friends.
The problem was that it was Derek Jacobi, and he was determined to be irrepressible. Branagh evidently lacks the directorial gravitas to be able to say to an actor of that standing, "Stop that. Stop doing that. Stop doing that, too. Tone that bit down, the line is good enough without so much mugging."
The production might have survived all the above but two further errors exasperated this listener. The first was that the telecast of the performance was preceded by 10 or 12 minutes of pre-taped interviews with contemporary London teenagers, asking them questions about the play itself and about what life as a teenager is like. The purpose of this was ham-handedly to remind the audience that the title characters are very young. But surely that is the business of the actors?
The other irritant was the decision that the telecast should be in black and white. Obviously the live audience, in the theatre, were not seeing the play in black and white. The sets and costumes could not be equally effective for an audience seeing them in color and a simulcast audience seeing them in black and white. The idea was artsy and artificial, and it never became clear (to this viewer) what the effect was supposed to be.
I stayed through the love scene, curiously devoid of romantic appeal, and fled quietly.
Meera Syal demonstrated once more that the role of the Nurse is the best part in the play.
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