Some of the best ideas are the simple ones. Want to share a fav film with friends? Tack up a sheet in a London garden, crack open some beers and let Backyard Cinema be born. 4 years on, these are the perfect people to host Shakespeare’s classic tale reworked for the MTV generation. This spring not only marks the 20th anniversary of Baz Juhrmann’s Romeo+Juliet…how can it have been that long! It is also the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. And London has great plans in store. So what better way to start my own Shakespeare-adoring fest than here, on a comfy couch, generously poured G&T in hand, in the beautiful St Mary’s Church in Marylebone, which has been decorated to resemble the church in the film. And a choir. A real choir. Some Voices Sing Choir. Oooh what a choir. Backyard Cinema, you are genius. But then you are London.
I am not one for the cinema. And I know nothing of films; I leave it to my film friend aficionados to let me know which are good and which aren’t, and then I never see either. Except in a few cases, and those I love beyond sense. And this is one of them. R+J. Loud, brash and at times ridiculous, but so is this story of self-obsessed, indulgent, impulsive teenage lovers of the foolish grand gesture. And Leo and Claire are just so young and beautiful. It is, of course, Mercutio, who is the star of this tale, charming, witty, braggart and in this instance, in drag. Fabulously in drag. It’s pretty short too, even some of the more famous speeches have been cut. But that is the prerogative of every director of Shakespeare throughout the ages, and it is the breakneck speed of this production, accompanied by an often throbbing soundtrack that reminds us that this is less a story of romance than one of pointless brutality and mindless violence. And tonight we get it all, with a choir. As the previously boisterous crowd quiets, and the newscaster explains “In fair Verona, where we lay our scene…..a pair of star cross’d lovers take their life,” the choir, in red robes, holding candles, processes, and in full operatic voice begin “Oh Verona.” Mesmerizing.
They didn’t accompany the entire soundtrack, only featured in few of the favourites. Sadly, this didn’t include “When Doves Cry,” which I really would have loved to hear sung live. And then, in the final moments, as the lovers end their lives, his with poison, hers with gunshot to the head, the choir begins a slow, thoughtful version of Radiohead’s Creep.
Not in the original film, (orchestral music fills the silence) but WOW did it work. “You are special, so fucking special, I wish I were special…” I felt chills that were more than just the melancholy of watching a well know tragedy. Suddenly, this film wasn’t just about the waste of this young couple, but the waste of human life throughout the world…such is the power of words. Such is the power of song. Sung by a choir. I think Mr. S would have loved it.