Luminous Lily James Flowers Into a Star Performer: Quentin Letts' First Night Review of 'Romeo and Juliet'
Daily Mail, 26 May 2016
Sir Kenneth Branagh directs Shakespeare with a seriousness and opulence not much seen in British theatre at present.
And in luminous Lily James – Lady Rose in Downton Abbey – he has found the perfect Juliet.
Miss James sees off a challenge from Sir Derek Jacobi, camping it up splendidly as Mercutio, to steal the show in this respectful yet inventive production.
She is beautiful, yes, but she brings so much more to the part.
This Juliet zooms in a trice from despair to face-fanning excitement, doing that 'gather' gesture modern girls use.
When told Romeo wants to marry her, she gets the hiccups. She has an animated face and a voice that can both roar and whisper.
Muscular Richard Madden (Game Of Thrones fans will know him) is handsomely cast as her beau. Does he maybe look a little like Andy Burnham? What a terrible thought!
Co-directors Branagh and Rob Ashford have gone for a monochrome aesthetic, the black and white clothes matching the stones of Verona, more granite than marble.
The lighting? Ill-lit by moonlight, you could say – but that accentuates fortune's contrasts.
From the moment we see the Montagues and Capulets darting around Verona's classical columns, it is plain Latin tempers are high.
There are repeated snatches of Italian in the margins, plus some jazz music, Juliet singing a sensuous song which bewitches Romeo.
Here is Romeo And Juliet not as some gloom-laden tragedy from the start but as a pacy depiction of a prosperous, exciting town.
Sir Derek's Mercutio does a little boogie with himself. He is gossipy, naughty – and comes a cropper after playfully kissing the sword-wielding Tybalt (Ansu Kabia).
Marisa Berenson, a fashion model in the 1970s, makes a nicely stiff appearance as Lady Capulet. I think the stiffness is intended, anyway.
Meera Syal gives the Nurse an accent that stretches between Poplar and Derby.
The prince of Verona (Taylor James) is done up in what looks like a traffic warden's outfit, poor lad. Some gender swapping of minor roles matters not a hoot.
Juliet's soliloquy ('I wish night would come'), contemplating the loss of her virginity, proves beyond doubt that Miss James is star material.
She has the beauty of a Keira Knightley but buckets more stage ability and charm. Bravo.