Tag Archives: Sir Derek Jacobi

Romeo and Juliet

15 Aug

Whilst in London I went to the Garrick Theatre to see Kenneth Branagh’s production of “Romeo and Juliet”.

I found the production uneven.  Two things disturbed me a lot.  One was the setting.  Shakespeare’s plays are, mostly, timeless, in that you can shift them quite happily through time and space without upsetting the story.  However, because “Romeo & Juliet” deals with teenage love, and the marriage of a girl not yet 14, shifting the setting to the fascistic Italy of Mussolini, just feels so badly wrong.  As if Lord Capulet is pandering to a paeodophile in attempting to marry Juliet to Paris.  In Shakespeare’s own time and earlier, this was nothing to quibble about.  Marriages were contracted early.  But by the 1930s-1940s, this simply was not done.

The second thing was the sheer brutality of Lord Capulet.  Turning him from a harried father to a brutal, abusive, psychopath, changed the tone too much.  There was no need for the violence displayed on stage as he throws Juliet around in his rage.  No, sorry, if I want to see that I’ll watch the bloody news.

However, the production does have three things going for it.  Three of the actors.

Sir Derek Jacobi – I freely admit that I wanted to attend the play purely for the chance to see one of the greatest actors of our age on the stage.  Having adored him in the BBC Shakespeare’s productions of “Richard II” and “Hamlet” in my teens.  Sir Derek played Mercutio.  Usually a young man, full of pomposity and arrogance, in Sir Derek’s hands, Mercutio becomes an avuncular oracle to Romeo, dispensing advice, wit, and sarcasm in equal measures.  His death scene is a delight.

Meera Syal – Meera played Juliet’s nurse, one of Shakespeare’s most delightful comic creations.  She captured the stage and the audience in the palm of her hand and never let them go.  A brilliant performance.

Samuel Valentine – Friar Laurence is one of those characters, like Horatio in “Hamlet”, where the role is small, but pivotal.  Samuel’s Friar Laurence was a creation of strength, honour, and love.  Watch for this actor.  I am positive he will go on to greater things.

Though, as I said, the production was uneven, I would not have missed it for the world.  The chance to see three fantastic actors at work, was well worth the cost.

London 2016

11 Apr

I’m off back to dear old Blighty for two weeks again this year.  Same time as last year.  July/August.

This year, the 400th Anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, I am trying to give my two weeks in London a Shakespearean flavour.

There are two things that I am confirmed doing so far.  One is visiting the British Library’s special exhibition “Shakespeare in Ten Acts”.  As they will have one of the few known examples of William Shakespeare’s handwriting as part of the exhibition, that’s a must.

The other is attending a performance.  I have a ticket to see “Romeo and Juliet”, put on by Kenneth Brannagh’s Theatre Company, at the Garrick Theatre.  For me the highlight of this performance is the fact Sir Derek Jacobi will be playing Mercutio.  The chance to see an actor I consider one of the finest Shakespearean actors of our age performing live is too good to miss.  I have seen recorded performances by Sir Derek.  Notably his Hamlet and Richard II for the BBC back in the late 1970s.

I am hoping to get to Oxford as well, as the Bodleian Library has a free exhibition on Shakespeare and death.

I’m also going to try and squeeze in a visit to the Globe Theatre.  Maybe just a tour of it, because I’m not sure I’m going to get a chance to see a play there too.  Even though they are performing on of my favourites this season – “Macbeth”.

All in all, it’s going to be a wonderful two weeks.

As Luck Would Have It

24 Jun

Sir Derek Jacobi has been a favourite actor of mine ever since I saw him in the BBC production of Shakespeare’s Richard II.

His autobiography “As Luck Would Have It” is as warm and as sweet as you would expect from this lovely man.

He is open and honest about his career and his personal problems, but at no point does he invite you to feel sorry for him.  It’s very much “this is me; this is what happened”.  No excuses and no bullshit.

“As Luck Would Have It” is also chock-a-block with delightful theatrical anecdotes and bon mots.  I was reduced to helpless giggles many times during my reading of the book.

In many ways “As Luck Would Have It” is a throwback to the old style of theatrical memoir.  It has a warm, friendly feel to it, lots of wonderful stories, and no decorating of other actor’s shoulder blades with metaphorical knife hilts, as has become so common in recent years.

His recollections of the four times he played Hamlet make for wonderful reading for any dedicated Shakespeare aficionado.

I can’t recommend “As Luck Would Have It” highly enough.  I think it would be of particular interest to those interested in English theatre, the early days of the National Theatre, those who enjoy a good, old fashioned memoir, and fans of Sir Derek.

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