Garrick Theatre, London – until 13 August 2016
GUEST REVIEWER LUKE JONES SLUMPS IN DISAPPOINTMENT
Kenneth Branagh’s entire season has been built on one universal truth. From star to stage-sweeper, pack the production with the best talent and glorious things will inevitably follow. Why then, has that same formula now stumbled? I couldn’t have been more predisposed to liking this production, the cast or its director. But Branagh’s sweatily Italian and disastrously unfunny production is such a disappointment.
The scene looks like a Dolce and Gabbana advert. Cafe chairs are forever being put out and stacked away. Characters shimmy in, espresso in hand. And when the director can’t use the text at hand for whatever extra-curricular contrivance he has up his sleeve, they all start shouting in Italian.
It is these contrivances which are the fundamental flaw. Everything is played for laughs. With Meera Syal’s nurse (one of the better parts of the production) this sits fine. She jogs in, jogs out, lights a fag, winks and collapses. Lovely. But when Richard Madden’s maddening Romeo and Lily James’ flat Juliet start comedy-swigging from bottles and hamming up lines in the balcony scene you realise it’s gone too far. Too far, Ken.
It almost seems unfair to blame the cast. A lightening-fast pace is set in the first few moments and they’re all left panting to keep up. The protagonists are fine, but lack any kind of chemistry. Other than some panicked kissing, no moments of intimacy are allowed. There is no sex or fire behind anything. Just an eye on the clock and a mind on dinner.
The parents, Tybalt, and Paris are (to be fair like in most productions) quite forgettable, but Derek Jacobi’s shamelessly camp (and mysteriously old) Mercutio is light relief and one of the few moments where the incredibly camp production makes sense. This is weighed out by a Friar in his 20’s who only speaks sitcom.
But I can forgive the cast. They are cut adrift and lost in pointless songs and infuriating background mood music. Every inch has the director’s paws all over it. I never thought I would write the phrase this Romeo and Juliet has too much lounge jazz. The shame is that Richard Madden and Lily James probably have a brilliant Romeo and Juliet in them. Something fiery and youthful. Perhaps in a production which allowed silences and pauses. I have no idea why that production isn’t this one. But seems incredibly un-Kenneth Branagh like to try and whizz through the poetry to dig up a gag.
Until 13th August.
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