Sir Kenneth Branagh reunites the stars of his Disney Cinderella adaptation for a slick and satisfying take on the world’s most famous romance in the West End.

In the sixth of the Branagh’s year-long season of seven plays at The Garrick Theatre by Charing Cross station, Game of Thrones’ Richard Madden is Romeo to Esher actress and star of Downton Abbey Lily James’ Juliet.

Everyone knows the basic premise of Shakespeare’s enduring tragedy in which boy and girl from warring families fall in love. Here it is set in 1950s Verona and, together with its 400-year-old language, Branagh and co-director Rob Ashford still make it vibrantly modern with cute flourishes, ample humour and neat execution.

The pleasantly updated setting gives us the classic chic of 1950s Verona, with envy-inducing costumes that conjure romance.

Its set of Roman-esque blocks and pillars initially underwhelms but is cleverly lit to evoke equally well the intimacy of the balcony, the decadence of a masked ball, piazzas and the famous Italian café culture.

A beautifully paced first half plays mostly like a rom-com as our star-crossed lovers’ paths entwine - including some genuine laugh-out-loud moments - then builds towards an ending which could, truth be told, be more potent.

The central partnership of James and Madden sizzles, working beautifully both in their scenes together and apart.

Their meet-cute at the masked ball and subsequent wooing at the balcony are eye-wideningly impressive – a combination of deft choreography, design and dialogue delivered with flourish and wit.

Dashing Madden is a presence you can’t take your eyes off while Surrey’s own James’ stunning performance imbues Juliet with vitality and believability.

Thanks to her work, there is nothing pathetic about her passionate, besotted and trapped Juliet. The audience is on board all the way to the tragic conclusion - no mean feat for an ending which, on paper, comes across ridiculously convoluted.

Veteran Derek Jacobi at 77 may seem too old to be Romeo’s pal but his waspish cynic Mercutio is precisely performed and with such vim that he is a real scene stealer. It’s a reminder why he is so highly regarded. Together with Meera Syal’s busy nurse, they lighten the tone wonderfully.

Between the quartet of Jacobi, James, Madden and Syal, the audience is kept enthralled whenever one is on stage.

Romeo and Juliet is broadcast live to cinemas on July 7 with Picturehouse Entertainment. Go to

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