Tara Anegada’s revision of the first half of Romeo and Juliet (she writes and directs) puts a lovelorn Marcutio (Barney Hartwill) centre stage. We hear of his love for Romeo since they were children, building into a romantic infatuation on his part, his friend remaining oblivious.
A two-character piece – we also meet Juliet (Sofia Bassani), the object of Romeo’s immediate love and lust – Mercutio’s Romeo and Juliet is filmed simply enough, with no flashy tricks and only a small amount of props. Mercutio wears a biker’s jacket proclaiming ‘Master of Revels’ on the back; Juliet is in denim vest and jeans.
As this is a truncated retelling (less than fifty minutes) you may be lost if you don’t know about the Montague-Capulet rivalry, and Tybalt appears from nowhere having not being established in this text.
There are some striking passages in this script, notably Mercutio’s loving recollection of a play kiss with Romeo as children, in contrast to Juliet’s distaste for the kiss of her betrothed, Paris.
Also moments where both mime and speak words together relating to their shared love of Romeo are powerful – both would die for him, and both do, although the closing moments of this Mercutio’s life see his prayer for Romeo’s future.
Mercutio’s character is set quickly (“my only crime is preferring merriment to politics”) as he meets Juliet at his cousin Paris’s house, and he is invited to the Capulet party. Romeo is still pining for his haughty Rosaline, but on seeing Juliet, in her words, “the world stops as I look into his eyes”.
Like Shakespeare, soliloquies play their part here, although Juliet’s are more signposted with a change of lighting. They reveal there is more to Mercutio than the town’s happy drunk who chooses a pirate costume at the party to “swashbuckle and swoon”. Inside his heart, forever Romeo’s, is breaking. He observes the balcony scene from afar, and retreats in turmoil.
Just before, Romeo has greeted his friend: “he melts through the gap like a shadow … a dandy highwayman come to woo his Rosalind … we kiss like men do, on the cheek”.
Some of the dialogue a little too heightened, as if he, Mercutio, is more stalker than admirer, but his passion walks on the edge of madness and jealousy. As he sees Juliet as no longer a bewitching beauty, but a “temptress”, we know he wants to be her, locked in embrace with Romeo. To have “real love, not brotherly love”.
I found it telling that in all these words of love and poetry, our young lovers first meet in a party with sticky floors and bodies which stink of smoke and sweat. It gives a grounded realism to a doomed teenage love, as does the description of Paris as “an overbearing mass of consumption”.
If Romeo is the devil of Juliet’s musings, he is certainly the cause of much trouble. He also inspires some beautiful speeches for both characters in this play: Juliet’s “if I were a seamstress”; Mercutio’s “a single tear falls on my lip”.