Review: Jacobi Steals Show In Branagh's Romeo And Juliet

Romeo and Juliet, Garrick Theatre ★★★★☆

Lettie Mckie
By Lettie Mckie Last edited 31 months ago
Review: Jacobi Steals Show In Branagh's Romeo And Juliet Romeo and Juliet, Garrick Theatre 4
Derek Jacobi (Mercutio) Richard Madden (Romeo) and Jack Colgrave Hirst (Benvolio) in Romeo and Juliet © John Perssonn

In an inspired move, Kenneth Branagh and Rob Ashford cast Derek Jacobi as Mercutio in their oddly comic rendition of Romeo and Juliet, at The Garrick.

With hints of La Dolce Vita, Verona of the 1590s is transformed into the grimy glamour of post-war Italy. Chunky marble, flashing sunglasses, a-line skirts, espresso and double-breasted suits are all present and correct in this slicker than slick production which could have been clichéd, but is just so incredibly sexy.

The comedic interpretation of the story will no doubt split audiences and it's true that sometimes the humour is misplaced. Meera Syal gets it right as the Nurse however, and Kathryn Wilder's gender-swapped Peter is a surprising hit for such a small part.

But it's Jacobi who steals the show — and earns this review an extra star — confirming himself a master of innuendo in the Queen Mab speech, and balancing his stresses as only the greats can. In Jacobi's hands Mercutio is a camp, cane-wielding rake with Godfatheresque menace in the final fight scene. After such a performance his absence in the second act is palpable. Jacobi is so superb in fact that Mercutio's death upstages that of the lovers.

Speaking of which.

Lily James's rebellious Juliet chugs on a stolen bottle of wine in the balcony scene and throughout brings a courageous sexiness to the character. Frankly she wipes the floor with Richard Madden who, although beautiful to look at, thumps out the verse like he is pounding meat. The one really weak link the in production, his faults can largely be forgiven only because James is good enough for the both of them.

As the pair hurtle towards their untimely doom the difference in their abilities becomes more pronounced. While Madden does little else but ring his hands before dying, James deftly conveys Juliet's desperation of waking up distraught in the tomb.

Visually, at least, the final scene embodies the full force of the tragedy. A gloomy theatrical Catholicism hangs over the lovers' final resting place, a shaft of moonlight illuminating their faces. Jacobi's final words "a plague on both your houses" seem to echo in the silence.

Romeo and Juliet is on at The Garrick, 2 Charing Cross Road, WC2H 0HH until 13 August. Tickets from £15. Londonist saw this show on a complimentary ticket.

Last Updated 26 May 2016