Reviews round-up: Kenneth Branagh’s Romeo and Juliet

A reviews round-up for Romeo and Juliet at the Garrick Theatre.

Kenneth Branagh’s highly anticipated production of Romeo and Juliet starring Richard Madden and Lily James as the star crossed lovers has now opened at the Garrick Theatre.

Branagh shares the directing duties with Rob Ashford — who also choreographed the piece — and the creative team includes design by Christopher Oram, lighting by Howard Hudson and sound by Christopher Shutt.

Transported to 1950’s Verona Christopher Oram’s elegant and simple design imbues visions of ‘Fellini’s La Dolce Vita meets The Godfather’ and is well received by the critics however the main criticism of the production lies with the lack of chemistry between Madden and James, and Maddens ordinary Romeo.

As to be expected Derek Jacobi gives a superb performance as Mercutio and undoubtedly outshines everyone else – it’s worth seeing just for his performance

Romeo and Juliet runs until 13 August 2016 at the Garrick Theatre.

Here’s a reviews round-up including The Guardian, The Observer, The Evening Standard, The Telegraph, City AM, The Stage, Time Out and The Independent.


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Average Critics Rating


The Guardian

“Lily James’s Juliet has a boozy balcony scene, Richard Madden’s Romeo seems genuinely inflamed by love and Derek Jacobi is a lounge-lizard Mercutio”

“plunged into a vividly imagined 1950s Italy of dark-suited men, petticoated women, bicycling friars, patriarchal oppression and frantic partying. You feel Fellini is due any moment to film it with a movie camera and, even if the result has its oddities, the production certainly has a pulsating energy.”

“This is a Juliet who swigs from a bottle on the balcony and later anticipates Romeo’s arrival with a positively orgasmic ecstasy. James is excellent in the second half where Juliet vividly imagines the horror of entombment but, by placing so much stress on the character’s sexuality, the production sacrifices some of her vulnerability.”

“Jacobi brings to the role both a sashaying charm and his own minute precision with the verse: it is a pleasure to hear him treat the Queen Mab speech not as a manic rant but as a series of microscopic images so that we actually imagine “the wings of grasshoppers”

Michael Billington, The Guardian

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“quite simply the best Romeo and Juliet for some time.”

“Richard Madden (Game of Thrones) and Lily James (Downton Abbey), look young and pretty in the titular roles, and this helps sell their amour fou, which they play to the border of incredulity”

“a triumph for doyen of the Shakespearean stage Derek Jacobi; casting him as Mercutio is a stroke of genius.”

Simon Thomson, City AM

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The Observer

“Lily James and Richard Madden certainly look the part, but are doomed by their diction”

“It has intermittent fizz but never feels urgent or perilous. Lily James and Richard Madden look unusually fresh and credible as febrile young lovers. They were meant to hoist the production sky-high, towards Phoebus’s lodging. But their speaking is earthbound.”

“All of Derek Jacobi’s lines are flutingly locuted. He is in a show of his own as a dandy Mercutio. A parody of a young blood, he comes on in dapper suit and co-respondent shoes, twirling a cane. He sticks “boom-boom” at the end of a line to land a bon mot. It’s scarcely mercury that is running through his veins, but he just about makes sense of casting an elderly actor in the quicksilver part. Until, that is, he totters up to Tybalt to start a fight, and no one thinks to intervene.”

Susannah Clapp, The Observer

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The Independent

“Branagh’s Verona largely persuades as a steamy setting for these star-crossed lovers.”

“James & Madden power through with appropriately teenage high drama, but the show never plumbs the full depths of tragedy. Madden, has hot-headed eagerness and swagger but not much subtlety, brashly bashing out his lines.”

“ James has an immensely watchable, winning quality, a mix of guileless, passionate optimism and limb-twisting, teenage awkwardness. It's a perfect blend for Juliet, although as the tragedy charges towards its inevitable end, her lines blur as she tremulously brims over.”

Holly Williams, The Independent

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The Stage

“The production, for all its would-be modern trappings – disco music and trendy modern dress – feels so old-fashioned it’s like watching Romeo and Juliet as played by the cast of Dynasty. Marisa Berenson's earnest Lady Capulet brings to mind Joan Collins and the show even starts unpromisingly with a heavy-handed voice-over narration that feels like it’s out of an old Hollywood movie.”

Mark Shenton, The Stage

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The Daily Telegraph

“Telly hunk Richard Madden is a disappointing Romeo in Kenneth Branagh's Romeo and Juliet, but Lily "War and Peace" James delivers the Shakespearean goods.”

“Madden’s hero is maddeningly ordinary. He qualifies as an alpha Romeo in appearance, tanned in his white shirt, with T-shirt beneath, and black jeans (later on, a suit and tie). But where’s the hormonal passion, the angst, the volatility – and, more importantly, a way with the verse that answers its soaring poetry? Like a dutiful batsman, he keeps hitting the lines with a polite, dull thud without scoring any sixes.”

“Sir Derek shows everyone how it’s done, bringing thoughtful, teasing emphasis to Mercutio’s “Queen Mab” speech – but what, actually, is he doing here? He’s generations older than his pal Romeo”
“A terrific Desdemona up in Sheffield a few years ago, [James] delivers the Shakespearean goods, as alluring in her nightie as a latterday Sophia Loren”

Dominic Cavendish, The Telegraph

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Evening Standard

“Despite some flashes of wit and Lily James radiating a mix of innocence and enchanting vitality as Juliet, at times Kenneth Branagh's production is curiously drab”

“Branagh and Ashford’s production conjures up the seductive spirit of Federico Fellini’s films.”

“The presence as Juliet’s mother of Marisa Berenson, who graced so many magazine covers in the Seventies, feels like a deliciously unexpected collector’s item”

“The choice of 77-year-old Jacobi as twenty-something Romeo’s volatile friend Mercutio is unusual but he is a cane-twirling delight, reminiscent of his finicky character Stuart in TV’s Vicious yet with a dash of debonair eloquence. Syal’s Nurse is best not in her moments of bawdy comedy but when her self-absorbed chattiness gives way to confusion.”

Henry Hitchings, The Evening Standard

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Time Out

“If leads Lily James and Richard Madden turn in solid, meat'n'two veg performances in director Kenneth Branagh's take on Shakespeare's ‘Romeo and Juliet’, then big name supporting actor Derek Jacobi offers something more akin to a 20 course tasting menu at the Fat Duck”

“It’s not to say that this is Jacobi at his best, because it isn’t – for the most part he’s shamelessly grandstanding. But his prissy, detailed take – he even has a special little dance ffs! – is so far beyond what poor, hunky Madden is capable of that they might as well be different species.”

Andrzej Lukowski, Time Out

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📷 Main photo: Richard Madden and Lily James | Romeo and Juliet | Photo: Johan Perrson

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