A look at Kenneth Branagh’s incredible first season at the Garrick Theatre
Born in Belfast in 1960, Sir Kenneth Branagh is an undisputed legend of the contemporary theatrical arts landscape. Over the course of a prestigious 30-year career, the RADA-trained star has won plaudits and awards not only as an actor on stage, screen and TV, but also as a director of Hollywood blockbusters (such as 2011 Marvel superhero hit Thor). In 2015 he announced the formation of the Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company through which, in his role as actor-director-manager, he would present a season of six plays at the Garrick Theatre, injecting a shot of his creative energy into the heart of the West End. As it closes out, we look back on the productions that made this unique season so special.
The Winter’s Tale
After leaving RADA, Branagh came to prominence as part of the Royal Shakespeare Company, so it’s no surprise that classical Shakespeare works form the backbone of his company’s signature season: their reading of The Bard’s timeless fable of love and jealousy in Bohemia was a fresh and brooding one. As well as starring alongside Dame Judi Dench and Hadley Fraser, Branagh co-directed with Rob Ashford.
Read our review of The Winter’s Tale here.
All on Her Own/Harlequinade
Presented in innovative fashion as a double bill without an interval, two works from iconic 20th Century playwright Terence Rattigan made for an effective combination. Headed by Branagh and Zöe Wanamaker, Harlequinade’s comedy – set in a theatre company rehearsing a production of Romeo and Juliet – contrasted with the darkness in Wanamaker’s powerful one-woman performance in All on Her Own.
Read our review of All on Her Own here.
Read our review of Harlequinade here.
Further exploration of the world behind the theatre curtain came with Red Velvet, featuring Olivier award-winner Adrian Lester in the role of Ira Aldridge, the first black actor to portray Othello on the London stage in 1833. Branagh describes Lolita Chakrabati’s work as “an exhilarating play, which in its discussion of performance, politics, and race is as entertaining as it is illuminating”.
Read our review of Red Velvet here.
A revival both of the 2011 production presented at the lyric theatre in Branagh’s native Belfast and of the comedy double act he forged with Welsh funny man Rob Brydon in it, The Painkiller offered laughs aplenty. Francis Verber’s classic French farce tells the tale of a suicidal photographer and the mysterious assassin occupying the hotel room next door.
Read our review of The Painkiller here.
Romeo and Juliet
Branagh teamed up with Rob Ashford again as co-director of a retelling of Shakespeare’s enduring masterpiece, taking an achingly fashionable vision of 50s Italy as visual inspiration. As Mercutio, Sir Derek Jacobi brought gravitas to a cast also featuring Lily James and Richard Madden as the star-crossed lovers.
Read our review of Romeo and Juliet here.
Branagh’s season at the Garrick closes out with a production of John Osborne’s modern classic, which sees the man himself taking the iconic lead role of fading music hall star Archie Rice. The play depicts the performer and his family in the aftermath of the Second World War: Phil Dunster and Greta Scacchi lend capable support.
Read our review of The Entertainer here.
Photos: Johan Persson
For further information about the Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company visit here.