Review: Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company's ROMEO AND JULIET (Live Screening)

While it's been a bit of a mixed bag, I've really been enjoying the Kenneth Branagh season at the Garrick and for the first time since the season's first play The Winter's Tale, I decided to go and see one of the plays being streamed live to the cinema. Granted, this makes the experience of seeing the play a little bit different, but the recent screening of Romeo and Juliet was produced to be such a
cinematic experience that I felt like I gained much more from the medium than I lost.

If you haven't seen a screening of one of the Kenneth Branagh plays before, then you might not be familiar with the idea that Branagh himself performs a spoken essay before the performance talking about his inspiration behind his choices for the production and so on. In this speech, Branagh revealed that he decided to make the presentation of Romeo and Juliet a much more cinematic experience, and that the broadcast will be in black and white to capture a vision for the piece that would be hard to capture on stage. At first, it felt like an unnecessary gimmick to just make you feel better about being sat in the cinema, but it actually turned out to be very effective.

Derek Jacobi as Mercutio, Richard Madden as Romeo and John Colgrave Hirst as Benvolio

This retelling of the story uses Shakespearean language but is set in 1950s Verona instead. As a result, the whole piece feels full of high glamour and class, which works much better than the 1990s film adapatation's attempt to make it feel very grubby, by Baz Luhrmann. Instead, the language is given the chance to be showcased in a high brow way and the play is given the chance to look so much more fresh and bright that it ever has done before. The set design by the iconic Christopher Oram is stunning - as are his costumes. His ability to utilise a small space well and to make it feel large yet homely all at once is inspired.

The cast are pretty fantastic as well. Richard Madden makes for a wonderful Romeo with oodles of charm and sex appeal. It's rare to see a portrayl of Romeo be so confident and powerful (in my experience anyway) and it was a modern approach that felt suitable both for the reimagining of the story and for fans of Madden himself. I'm a massive fan of Lily James and enjoyed her thoroughly as well. Her Juliet is shy at times and also rather quiet, but she made the perfect match to Madden's Romeo, which isn't all too surprising considering the work they'd done together before on Branagh's version of Cinderella for Disney. Meera Syal also gave one of my favourite performances of the night as did Derek Jacobi as Mercutio in a bold yet well-executed casting decision.

Meera Syal as the Nurse and Lily James as Juliet in Romeo and Juliet

Romeo and Juliet at the Garrick is a beautiful retelling of this classic story. Despite how well I know the piece by now, this production somehow managed to feel both fresh and new all at once. It was a version of Verona that I wish I could explore more and more, and it's a perfect revival of this timeless play if there ever was one.


  1. I really enjoyed the screening too, and the black and white element really worked for me. I'm definitely warming to these screenings, although I never used to be a huge fan of them.

    Charlotte x

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