I'm sometimes a bit behind when it comes to the cultural scene. I've still never seen Game of Thrones and it took me ages to listen to Beyonce's new album. And I am genuinely about 400 years late to the party when it comes to Romeo and Juliet, which is apparently quite a famous play.
It was such a relief that I was able to rectify this philistine-y oversight thanks to dreamboat theatre overlord Sir Kenneth Branagh, who knows all the words to Shakespeare in the same way that I know all the words to the back catalogue of Ace of Base. You can tell he has a better memory than me.
I have seen some Shakespeare before so I can smell him a mile off. It's a bit like world cinema from the olden days, because it's hard to understand what people are saying but they were not digitally advanced enough then to make subtitles. People were always getting into weird misunderstandings, like pretending they were dead or eating a pie with their own sons in it.
Although he is sometimes hard work, like literary novels or getting into jogging, Shakespeare is not going anywhere (although he is mega dead), and I felt a bit left out having not seen the most famous doomed love story ever (worse than today's news that Johnny Depp and Amber Heard are splitting up. Who is getting the dogs????).
Branagh's production stars Lily James and Richard Madden as the eponymous star-crossed lovers, and features some solid background japery from Derek Jacobi and Meera Syal. It's a big fixture in the Branagh season, a year of plays at the Garrick Theatre, directed by KB himself. They also generally see Branagh take up a starring role, and I have to say that I sorely missed his striding about showing off his superb diaphragm in this one, but you can't always get what you want can you?
If you don't know the story of Romeo and Juliet, which you do, because everyone does, then let me fill you in. Basically there are two families called the Montagues and the Capulets, who you may remember from the Arctic Monkeys' song I Bet You Look Good on the Dance Floor. They don't like each other, I'm not quite sure why. Maybe it was to do with parking spaces on their road, although I don't know what the arrangements were in Verona in the 1500s.
Because of all the beef, it's a massive ballache when their respective children fall in love: Romeo and Juliet meet at a ball where everyone is wearing masks (I have never been to a party like that but it seems like they were all the rage then). Not that many people seem to mention that Romeo actually had a massive boner for someone called Rosaline before he dumped her like a sack of potatoes and decided that the chick at the balcony was 100% definitely his soulmate even though he didn't even know that she is about 14 and that they might have really incompatible political views.
Next thing you know, they have had a secret wedding. They genuinely get married quicker than Britney and Kevin Federline did. This is something I have noticed in Shakespeare: he gives terrible relationship advice. If Hamlet really wanted to make it work with Ophelia, why did he murder her dad? Bad move. Never look to the bard for courting wisdom. You will end up in jail or on a documentary about broken families on Channel 4.
They were in such a rush that neither of them had a stag or a hen do, and then they are only married for about an hour before shit hits the fan - no honeymoon or cake or anything. It all gets a bit confusing because everyone is running about wailing, but the main thing is that when her family try to get her to marry someone else, Juliet decides to pretend to be dead. Because that works well every time.
You'll probably know that Romeo pops by and is understandably a bit upset because Juliet is really convincing at looking like she is dead, so he necks a load of poison so he can be dead too. Annoyingly, Juliet then wakes up and is like, "shitballs my husband is dead". Then she stabs herself. It's a living nightmare. If they had taken the entire relationship a bit slower then they might have realized it would never have worked anyway because Romeo was really needy and spent ages in the shower and Juliet was commitment-phobic and more interested in revising for her GCSEs as she was quite young.
Anyway, the point is I have now seen this very important play and so I now understand what a happy dagger is and can see why some men in romantic comedies have thought it was charming to stand under the window of a woman you really fancy when she doesn't know you're there. I feel more well-rounded as a human and I have employed a guard dog to patrol outside my window.
Romeo and Juliet is at the Garrick Theatre until 13 August and will be broadcast live in cinemas on 7 JulySuggest a correction