29 June 2016
Age before beauty
One of the first shows in the year-long London West End residency of Kenneth Branagh’s company was Terence Rattigan’s Harlequinade, a farce about a production of Shakespeare’s teenage tragedy in which Branagh played a Shakespearean veteran still squeezing into Romeo’s tights despite arthritis.
Sensibly, the company’s leading man has stayed off stage as co-director (with Rob Ashford) of its revival of Romeo and Juliet. The title roles go to Richard Madden and Lily James, reliable ticket-sellers due to the duo co-starring in Branagh’s film of Cinderella and Madden’s familiarity from the TV series Game of Thrones.
After the previous Shakespeare in the season, The Winter’s Tale, secured a great classical actor, Judi Dench, for unusually small roles (Paulina / Time), Branagh and Ashford have again turned the casting directory on its head, by signing as Mercutio, generally a juvenile role, the 77-year-old Derek Jacobi. His portrayal of Romeo’s kinsman as an embarrassing ancient playboy uncle works, not least because Jacobi is able to bring to Mercutio’s long “Queen Mab” speech a vocal heft and nuance far above those of the recent drama school graduates usually asked to do it.
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