Review _ Romeo and Juliet, Garrick Theatre

Friday 20 May 2016

romeo-and-juliet-quoteMarisa Berenson!

Many will have been attracted to this Kenneth Branagh/Rob Ashford directed, rather starrily cast Romeo and Juliet, by the other names: Richard MaddenLily JamesDerek Jacobi and Meera Syal.

Not us. Though to be entirely honest her casting hadn’t been announced when we booked, but our interest went off the Richter when it was. For younger viewers, Berenson played Natalia Landauer in the film of Cabaret and is in the (to us) classic “This was a cold of the bosom, not of the nose” scene. When we get man colds we have described them thusly ever since and “Ze plegm…zat comes in the tubes.” will forever be pronounced the Berenson way as “pleg-ma”.

And because it’s Berenson as Lady Capulet we will of course overlook that at 69 she is years older than her rather buff Lord C (Michael Rouse) who at one point sports a Stanley Kowalski wife-beater, but then he has to be fit since (err, is this a SPOILER ALERT?) he has to lug Juliet to her tomb. And we can almost overlook that Berenson is 42 years older than Lily James’ Juliet who she’s trying to force into marriage at the tender age of 13-going-on-14. So 56 years older then. Did they have IVF in Shakepeare’s day? Presumably no one arranged a teenage union for Lady C or she’s on her second marriage or just took a very long time to bear fruit.

And yes, she’s elegant, and as this R&J is located in a Fellini fan’s wet dream; fifties Italy, she gets to wear some fabulous frocks. So fabulous that when (SPOILER ALERT?) she kneels over the dying Tybalt (Ansu Kabia) there isn’t a drop of blood spilt on her skirt.

So what else is there? Well, there’s some gender-blind casting and since we are discussing age there’s also age-blind casting in having an elderly, mincing Mercutio from Jacobi. He can’t have indulged in swordplay for quite a few years. His “hilarious” Shakesperean quips are finished off with a rather peculiar Basil Brush-esque “boom boom” and his Queen Mab speech is more Vicious Queen Mab as if he’s gearing up for another series of the sitcom.

Lily James almost gets away with a song in the ball scene which strives and fails to have the decadence of the party scenes in The Great Beauty and wears a convincing (because it comes from the tongs of Richard Mawbey) black wig. Syal’s Nurse clumps around the stage in a very noisy pair of heels.

Christopher Oram‘s set conjures up severe fascistic architecture rather successfully; thin rectangular pillars slide up and down like a massive game of Mussolini Jenga turned on its side. A cumbersome balcony is trundled on and off by stagehands. It’s only three steps up, so practically ground floor; Richard Madden’s Romeo is not subjected to too much of a workout. But although he gives pretty good swain theres’s little chemistry between him and his Juliet. Our seats ensured we couldn’t see Romeo for most of the balcony scene but we could see Juliet swigging from a champagne bottle during it. Underage drinking? Disgraceful. The scene is about as awkward and convincing as a Johnny Depp apology.

Preview performance and all that, tee tum tee tum, but there seems to have been little, if any, concession made in the seat prices. We found it completely uninvolving and it wasn’t just us. We witnessed several people hightailing it at the interval, some even making departures during Act 1. The American woman seated next to us was much less generous than we’ve been here.


Awful Audiences Update
You wonder why we go to the theatre less frequently these days? Well we’ve moaned before, but, apart from the prices the audiences are getting progressively worse on each occasion. We were in the second row of the Dress Circle and sat aghast as we watched a woman in the front row eating a noodle meal (with chopsticks) before the play began.

Then two women wearing fascinators, who looked as if they’d just arrived from Ascot Ladies’ Day or an upmarket brothel, proceeded to take a considerable series of pre-show selfies. All credit to the theatre staff who eventually asked them to remove their titfers (which rose to at least 6 inches above their heads). Needless to say they did not return after the interval.

Oh and a couple in the row in front of us arrived late. They, and the usher showing them to their seats, stood blocking our view for a couple of minutes of the ball scene. Grrr.

Is there any point discussing the woman in front of us who despite the “turn off your phones” announcement ignored it until she was shouted at by those around her. If she didn’t understand the loud and very clear instructions what chance for her understanding Shakespeare?




2 Responses to “Review _ Romeo and Juliet, Garrick Theatre”

  1. John A Says:

    Apropos awful audience update, when I went to Waste at the National, near the front where there is little elevation between the rows, the woman in front put her backpack and coat on her seat and then sat on them, to completely block my view. I asked her not to, to which she replied, like a tantruming toddler ‘I’m going to ask an usher if I can.’ She returned with a booster cushion given by the usher. Fortunately, there were empty seats a few rows up, that I could relocate to.

  2. […] West End Whingers: “We found it completely uninvolving and it wasn’t just us.” […]

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