A hammy Derek Jacobi comprehensively steals the show from star cross'd lovers Lily James and Richard Madden
Due to an ankle injury sustained by Richard Madden, Freddie Fox will take over the role of Romeo from July 26 to the end of the run.
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 a pretty weird contrast.
Branagh and Rob Ashford's production is, for the most part, as straight down the line as they come. It's bustling, it’s energetic, before the tragedy kicks in it’s exuberant and lighthearted (Meera Syal's nurse and Sam Valentine's Friar Lawrence are particularly chucklesome), and the verse speaking is beautifully crisp and clear.
It's not doing anything fancy, but it’s solid. James’s petulant, immature Juliet is good. 'Game of Thrones' star Madden is less so, delivering his passionate verse with the elan of a mildly vexed junior accountant. There’s not a lot of chemistry between them, but fans of the duo – who were also the romantic leads of Branagh’s ‘Cinderella’ film – will probably forgive them that. It’s obviously intended as Shakespeare for younger audiences or first timers, but I mean that less patronisingly than it might sound: Shakespeare’s romantic, action-packed tragedy about two teens lovers from feuding houses is almost always staged with an eye on newcomers.
But then there’s the strangest of wildcards, 77-year-old Sir Derek Jacobi, one of the greatest English stage actors of all time, taking on the role of Romeo’s prankish BFF Mercutio. It’s a fascinating piece of casting, and Jacobi definitely makes sense of Mercutio as a stylish, snarky old queen. But the obvious downside of shoving a living stage legend next to actors who are, er, not is that there’s nobody there to stop him running off with the show, which is a big problem when he’s only in the first half.
It’s not to even say that this is Jacobi is 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. Spoiler alert: Mercutio dies in single combat with Romeo’s nemesis Tybalt just before the interval (poignantly, Jacobi suggests the elderly Mercutio only challenges Tybalt as one of his pranks, but being Italian and that is left unable to back down when the other man takes him at his word). With Jacobi’s gone, the second half is left with a yawning charisma void that pretty much undermines the tragedy.
Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo? Dunno mate, I was too busy gawping at Mercutio.
Average User Rating
3.1 / 5
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I have seen excellent, and not so much, conventional stagings before, and recently rewatched Buz Luhrmann's film version courtesy of Backyard Cinema and for me this Kenneth Branagh production falls somewhere in the middle. Party scene and music in it partcularly reminiscent of Buz take on it. More Dolce Vita than Shakespeare's Verona, I actually didn't mind that at all, Italian phrases and stereotypes thrown in with late 1950s costuming and jazzy singing, added humour. Overall it is a bit flat,with papa Capulete and Tabylt actors allowed to overact to uncomfortable degree, even Meera as Nurse was a little OTT at times. I give it 4 stars however, because the concepts and designs are great, the actor playing Father Lawrence, Sir Derek Jacobi (who steals the show and he alone is worth price of admission!), and Freddy Fox who replaced the Game of Thrones star I don't care for, we're all fantastic. Freddy Fox stepped in due to original actors problem ankle, and I sorry to say I am grateful to that ankle. What a talent and for me he and Sir Derek made the night.
The sixth play of Kenneth Branagh's season of seven at the Garrick Theatre - with a running time of 2 hours and 45 minutes the pace of this play is rapid. During this two hours of heavy traffic on stage Lily James exudes beauty and effortless ease throughout. Meera Syal who plays the part of Juliet's Nurse, brings a reassuring presence to the audience during periods of which the mind tended to wander. Much to our hearts discontent the hunky Richard Madden had hurt his ankle so instead we were presented with his understudy Tom Hansen who quite frankly made a fabulous Romeo and the audience were certainly not left feeling disheartened as a result of his confident portrayal of our son of Montague.
It has to be said the true star of the show had to be Derek Jakobi who plays Mercutio. At the fabulous age of 77 Jakobi described taking on this role as 'exciting & intriguing'. Right up until his swift deathly exit he is utterly hilarious, camp and charming. I think it's fair to say his death before the Interval leaves the second half feeling a tad flat but in all, a decent production 'for never was a story of more woe than this of Juliet and her Romeo'! P.s you can grab tickets for a measly £15 - so i'd say do it!
There’s a reason that we are still watching the works of Shakespeare over 400 years after they were written. The captivating poetry of love and death will always have a place on a modern stage and, though the language can be alienating, the stories will always be relatable. It would be easy to think that it’s impossible to have a bad production of such prestigious poetry – but non-believers shall be converted if you are to go and view The Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company’s rendition of Romeo and Juliet.
Unfortunately, this production felt more like a comedy than a tragedy - and not in a good way. Of course, there’s comedy in all of Shakespeare’s tragedies if you keep an eye out for it, but I’m pretty sure that Romeo’s death isn’t meant to be one of the funny parts….
The night that I went to see Romeo and Juliet, Richard Madden’s understudy was in the spotlight as the hero and this may be one of the reasons that the show lacked the crucial chemistry between the two leads, but unfortunately this wasn’t the only flaw in the show. It was plagued with performances akin to a GCSE Drama piece; overacted and lacking truth (Romeo’s hilarious death scene was a good example of this). However, Lily James was suitably beautiful and was believable as Juliet and Meera Syal brought some great comedy to the Nurse.
There were some saving graces too, the stone set of an Italian courtyard in the 1940’s was clever and Derek Jacobi shone as an old age Mercutio. The whole first act was in fact a promising start to what turned out to be a bit of a car crash performance.
As London theatre can verge on the pricey side, I’d recommend you spend your hard earned money elsewhere, unless you can afford an expensive laugh at Shakespeare’s expense…
Having seen many plays over the years, This has really disappointed me.
Richard Madden was ill, therefore not playing the titular role. His understudy was simply boring. It was as though he had just memorised the dialogue, there was no passion or chemistry between him or the other actors. Lily James, Derek Jacobi were good enough but not what I expected from seasoned actors. The actress playing Juliet's mother was barely audible. Tybalt was by far the most emotive.
The idea of it being set in 50s Verona was interesting but there was just no chemistry between any of the actors. It was painful to watch and we noticed a few people had left after the interval. As this was a production from Kenneth Branagh I thought it would be a very interesting show but it just lacked in every sense. Such a shame as my friends and I had been looking forward to this.
So disappointed. The Garrick is a cramped claustrophobic theatre, with poor tiering in the stalls so view partially blocked by anyone tall in front of you. The couple in front of me kept whispering to each other and blocked my view whenever their heads came together or when the girl was being fed ice cream by her partner!!! It was also very hot and stuffy and uncomfortable- people couldn't wait to get out for air. It's not worth the £50 for a seat at back of stalls. All of this could have been overlooked if it had been a good production but sadly it was very boring- it just didn't come to life and didn't flow. There was no chemistry between the leads- the understudy was on that night- not very convincing as Romeo- reminded me of a trainee bank manager - not sure if it would have been different with Richard Madden?? Lily James and Derek Jacobi and the actor playing Juliet's father were enjoyable to watch- but that was about it. Was Kenneth Branagh having an off day with this production?
Looked forward to seeing a Ken Branagh production, however came away feeling disappointed. The actors seemed embarrassed with the well known speeches, balcony scene with Juliet necking back a bottle of wine was contrived and Paris's death scene reminded me of scenes from 'hot fuzz'.
Derek Jacobi as a camp Mercutio was the only highlight.