Well over a year ago when it was announced that Richard Madden would be playing Romeo in Kenneth Branagah’s Romeo and Juliet in London I knew instantly that I wanted to go. I even posted a quote from him talking about it on instagram expressing my desire to actually get to see him. I sort of didn’t really think it would happen though but thanks to timing and a little push with Kit Harington doing a play at the exact same time it ended up working out and I made it to London.
Now here’s the thing, I’m not a theatre buff and I’m certainly not a Shakespeare buff. So if you’re looking for a hard core and in-depth review of this play through the eyes of someone who is then you’ve come to the wrong place. I can tell you though that even though I’m not either of those things I immensely enjoyed this adaptation of Romeo and Juliet.
Up until I saw some promotional video and photos I just assumed the costumes and settings would be very traditional and what you would have expected from Romeo and Juliet. Then I saw a picture of Richard wearing sunglasses in a suit and having a smoke and I thought, “Hum, maybe this will be a little bit different.” Turns out the setting was more 1950’s Verona than 1590. The costumes were stunning dresses and suits and the sets were simple while still being grand with stone pillars taking up space throughout the show. There was also an interesting dance number with music that felt like it belonged more at an EDM festival than it did in Romeo and Juliet but it added a different kind of vibrancy and life that just worked.
That’s the thing about this adaptation of Romeo and Juliet is that it’s not stuffy or what you’d typically think when you think of this particular play. There was drinking, smoking, dancing, and laughs. A lot of laughs. I can’t particularly remember ever seeing a version of Romeo and Juliet where I laughed so much but throughout the first half especially the audience busted into giggles multiple times.
I think that’s what threw a lot of critics and people who have had a few harsh words to say about this production is while the story is still true to the play everything around it is a little bit more modern.
Richard Madden’s Romeo isn’t just a one-note heartthrob well, Romeo, if you will. He’s a bit giggly and maybe a little unsure of himself and Richard plays well. Maybe I’m terribly biased because I adore Richard and I feel like maybe I saw more of Richard himself in his Romeo than I did what someone else expects from Romeo and I loved that. He was completely charming and endearing and I loved watching him in that role
Opposite Richard’s Romeo Lily James is absolutely delightful as Juliet. She has such a sweet air about her in real life and it comes across on stage as well. In a production that isn’t pure tragedy you need your Juliet to have a bit of bubbly brightness to her and that’s where James shines. She doesn’t lack at all when it does come to the tragic parts of the play either.
She and Richard have the same chemistry that we all first saw in Branagh’s live action Cinderella. You can tell they work well together and play off one another in every scene they share. I will say though that some of the light-heartedness of their characters does take away a bit from the whole star-crossed lovers drama a bit. There’s something missing that doesn’t give you that feeling all throughout that these two really, really, really shouldn’t be together.
All in all I thoroughly enjoyed the entire play. From getting a chance to see Richard and Lily perform live to being able to witness verteran’s like Derek Jacobi who stole the show as Mercutio and Meera Syal as Juliet’s nurse. It was two-plus hours of comedy and tragedy that I won’t soon forget.
What: Kenneth Branagh’s Romeo and Juliet
Who: Richard Madden, Lily James, Derek Jacobi, Meera Syal
Where: Garrick Theatre – London
When: Ends August 13, 2016
7:30 p.m. shows with 2:30 p.m. matinee on Saturdays