WHERE: Garrick Theatre

WHEN: Last night 16/1

At the end of a week where the nation mourned the loss of 69-year-olds David Bowie and Alan Rickman, it’s comforting to see Dame Judi Dench up on stage at 82.

This is the first production of Sir Kenneth Branagh’s company’s year-long residency at the Garrick Theatre and, although cast exquisitely, it’s easy to see why this is one of Shakespeare’s lesser performed works as the plotting doesn’t quite ring true and it’s low on memorable moments.

Branagh plays king Leontes who suspects his pregnant wife of being unfaithful and against the advice of the queen’s friend Paulina (Dench, underplaying beautifully and providing most of the humour in a difficult opening act) imprisons her and eventually banishes their daughter.

The second act moves forward 16 years with Perdita (a fine Jessie Buckley, currently appearing on TV in War and Peace) falling in love with Tom Bateman (star of ITV’s recently cancelled Jekyll and Hyde). John Dalgleish, who recently won an Olivier for Sunny Afternoon, lights up the early part of the second act with some comic songs.

We’ve never seen Branagh on stage before and here we’re certainly in safe hands. We join Branagh’s company later this year for Romeo and Juliet and The Entertainer, which we expect to be far more satisfying. A solid start then for the Garrick residency with the promise perhaps of something stellar to come.

  • Picture via Facebook courtesy Kenneth Branagh Company. Tickets for the company’s future productions here.
  • Enjoyed this review? Follow its author on Twitter @NeilDurham

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