Romeo and Juliet, Garrick Theatre, review: ‘Game of Thrones star and Lily James in beautiful tragedy’

ROMEO AND JULIET by Shakespeare, , Writer - William Shakespeare, Director - Rob Ashford and

ROMEO AND JULIET by Shakespeare, , Writer - William Shakespeare, Director - Rob Ashford and Kenneth Branagh, Set and Costume Designer - Christopher Oram, Lighting - Howard Hudson, The Garrick Theatre, London, 2016, Credit: Johan Persson - Credit: Archant

For his latest Shakespearean venture, Kenneth Branagh has produced a panting paean to Fellini, with all the cultural nuance of a Simpsons episode. While ravishing, his transposition of the action to 50s Italy is notable more for the fabulous fashions and stylish espresso cups than any great insight into the play.

Casting screen stars as the star-crossed lovers yields mixed results.

Game of Thrones’s Richard Madden makes Romeo a bland, nice chap – far too ploddingly British for the heaving passions of Branagh and co-director Rob Ashford’s vision – and he exhibits little chemistry with Lily James, though she was previously Cinderella to his Prince in Branagh’s film.

However, James superbly charts a clear journey from child – turning cartwheels and shifting from foot to foot while being lectured – to awestruck lover and finally doomed wife, steely resolve building with each new betrayal.

Eyebrows were raised at the casting of 77-year-old Derek Jacobi as Mercutio, but his is the liveliest performance of the bunch.

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He croons, prances, minces, whips a sword out of his walking stick, and delivers putdowns as though expecting a laugh track.

Marvellously entertaining, but his ill-defined relationship with Romeo means his demise lacks impact.

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Meera Syal’s bawdy nurse is similarly broad, though effective when hinting at the guardian’s fatal cowardice.

There are strong supporting performances from Jack Colgrave Hirst’s restless Benvolio, Ansu Kabia’s seething Tybalt, Michael Rouse’s brutish Capulet and Samuel Valentine’s youthful Friar.

Christopher Oram’s Italianate architecture is beautiful but fussy, and the production doesn’t trust its audience to stay engaged, adding overwrought music from Patrick Doyle, a dubious cabaret number and a surfeit of atmospheric candles.

Beautiful but not great tragedy.

Romeo and Juliet is at the Garrick Theatre.

Rating: 3/5 stars

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