Sir Derek Jacobi is going to get ready to rumble next summer as he joins Sir Kenneth Branagh’s players for Romeo and Juliet. The play will not only reunite him with friend and long-time collaborator Branagh, but also his Cinderella co-stars, Lily James and Richard Madden, who will play, arguably history’s most famous lovers.
Jacobi will play Mercutio, one of Romeo’s closest friends and in the privileged position of being neither Montague nor Capulet so can float between the two houses. Jacobi will be 77 when he hits the Garrick Theatre’s boards and as such, he’s an unusual choice for the role. However, as he told the Daily Mail, while he didn’t expect to be playing this character “at my age,” Branagh pointed out to him that Mercutio’s age is never actually mentioned in the text. In fact, there’s plenty to suggest a father figure/mentor role that he plays to Romeo and his friends with Branagh adding, “As part mentor, part father figure to Romeo, there is a fascinating chance to chart a different experience of the defiance and independence of the character.” It will certainly be an interesting interpretation.
With a number of key scenes, especially one involving Mercutio, revolving around fight scenes, Jacobi doesn’t seem overly concerned with taking on a much younger and more agile opponent. “I’ve swashed a buckle in my time. If I survived fighting with Peter O’Toole at the end of Hamlet in the Sixties, I could survive anything,” he jokes.
Jacobi, who is something of an authority on Shakespeare having both performed in a number of productions on stage and screen and been heavily involved in the Shakespeare authorship debate, said it was “a privilege to return to Shakespeare.” He described the role as “an exciting and intriguing challenge to take on.” Adding, “I’m particularly happy to tackle it in the company of Richard Madden and Lily James, with whom I had such an exciting working relationship in Cinderella.”
Although it is not one of my favourite Shakespeare plays, the cast that Branagh has assembled for this production is just first class. It’s an interesting mix and the fact that James, Madden and Jacobi have all relatively recently worked together is sure to add an extra depth and history to the performances. Jacobi’s casting could certainly shake things up a bit. I am curious to see who Branagh will get to play Tybalt and then, depending on the actor, how they choreograph that fight. You want it to be a fair fight , though an unfair, cold blooded killing could add some nice colours and actions to explore in the performances.
Romeo and Juliet will premiere at the Garrick Theatre on 12 May 2016. The Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company takes up residency on 17 October with the premiere of The Winter’s Tale starring Dame Judi Dench and Sir Kenneth Branagh.
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