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Romeo and Juliet review at the Garrick Theatre, London – ‘old fashioned and overeager’

Richard Madden and Lily James in Romeo and Juliet at the Garrick Theatre. Photo: Johan Persson
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I’m all for the West End offering commercial outings of the classics, but things are coming to a pretty pass when two theatres that virtually back onto each other are showing precisely how it should not be done.

Both, probably not coincidentally, feature stars of TV’s Game of Thrones. At the Duke of York’s Theatre, Kit Harington is playing Dr Faustus in a gimmick-laden grungy modern version that’s hell to watch and not just in the way intended. Now, right around the corner at the Garrick, the Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company is serving up Richard Madden as Romeo, opposite Lily James (his co-star from Branagh’s film version of Cinderella) as Juliet.

Despite looking undeniably good together, they respectively sound notes of shrill passion and petulance.

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.

Even good actors like Derek Jacobi, forced to camp caricature as Mercutio, look cast adrift, though there’s more sincerity from Samuel Valentine as Friar Laurence, a brutally bullying Lord Capulet from Michael Rouse, and a sweetly touching Nurse from Meera Syal.

When the show slows down to allow the play itself to breathe, with the final scene in the crypt and the double suicide, it at last becomes quietly affecting. But the rest of it has been so noisy that the respite is too little, too late – a bit like the lousy timing of the titular characters.

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The Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company runs aground with this fussy, overeager production