Review Round-Ups

Review Round-up: Judi Dench thrills in The Winter's Tale

The first offerings from the Kenneth Branagh season opened at the Garrick Theatre on Saturday

Michael Coveney, WhatsOnStage


"The first thing to say about Saturday's opening (Shakespeare at the matinée, Rattigan by night) is that this is a generous, full-hearted, thoroughly enjoyable occasion."

"How wonderful that an actor of Branagh's sly brilliance and versatility is leading his own company on the West End stage, in a crowd-pleasing repertoire that blows away any mutterings of "old-fashioned" with its indisputable energy and gusto."

"Dench brings all her deeply felt wisdom and humanity to bear on the role."

"Rattigan's Harlequinade – more usually paired with The Browning Version – is equally hard to pull off, but Branagh as the ludicrous juve Arthur Gosport, Zoë Wanamaker as the bibulous Nurse, Dame Maud, and John Shrapnel as a bluff stalwart, George Chudleigh, get the tone of jobbing, faded theatricality just right."

Paul Taylor, The Independent

★★★★★ (The Winter's Tale) ★★ (Harlequinade)

"A resplendent day that showed the different sides of [Kenneth Branagh's] personality and reunited him with actors of an older vintage – pre-eminently here Judi Dench – whom he has had the knack of turning into creative allies and conspirators."

"Branagh gives an extraordinarily searching portrayal of Leontes, the Sicilian king seized with baseless suspicion that his wife and bosom friend are having an affair."

"Except for Judi Dench’s inspired Paulina. Most movingly, she plays the friend of his wife Hermione – portrayed with immense dignity by Miranda Raison… With those husky tones that can impart a note of witty asperity to radiant generosity and vice versa, Dench is ideal casting for this character who seems to be in cahoots with Shakespeare."

"A red-letter day for theatre lovers."

Michael Billington, The Guardian


"Although Branagh stars in four of the productions and is involved in directing three of them, this feels like a company venture rather than an actor-manager ego-trip."

"Branagh and Dench are surrounded by a first-rate team. Miranda Raison lends the wronged and persecuted Hermione a shining self-belief, Michael Pennington brings a lifetime’s Shakespearean experience to the role of the bear-pursued Antigonus and John Dagleish is a suitably nimble-fingered Autolycus."

"The play [Harlequinade] survives through its detailed picture of the myopic obsessiveness of actors for whom the stage is a self-enclosed world. Branagh himself exactly captures the vain absurdity of Arthur Gosport."

"Miranda Raison looks too young to be plausible as his equally ageing Juliet, but there are sharply-defined cameos from Tom Bateman as a harassed stage manager, John Shrapnel as a mutinous old pro and Zoë Wanamaker as a hilariously soused theatrical Dame."

Ann Treneman, The Times

★★★ (The Winter's Tale) ★★ (Harlequinade)

"You would think that, of all people, Branagh would not mess up Shakespeare. You would be wrong. This [The Winter's Tale] is the first play in the inaugural Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company season at the Garrick: he stars and co-directs with Rob Ashford, which makes it doubly disappointing. Branagh’s performance is mystifyingly OTT."

"The star of the show, without question, is Dench, who is effortless to watch. She alone appears to be natural, nuanced, sane, holding the stage whenever she’s on it, which isn’t enough. I have to assume that the standing ovation was for her."

"Harlequinade is amusing in its sit-com way, pleasant enough froth. But if I’d had a channel changer I would have used it a few times.''

"It is Wanamaker who saves this one. She is Dame Maud, the dipso aunt who prances around in her motley fur and the wildest nun’s wimple ever. Branagh is lucky to have her."

Andrzej Lukowski, Time Out

★★★ (The Winter's Tale) ★★★★ (Harlequinade)

"Judi Dench is the saving grace of Kenneth Branagh's overwrought production [The Winter's Tale]."

"While Branagh has the biggest role, it’s Dame Judi Dench on the posters, and thank the theatre gods for her. As Hermione’s loyal companion Paulina, she has an easy charm as a twinkly-eyed busybody with hidden depths. She has a lot of lines for a relatively minor role, and she speaks the verse breathtakingly well, investing it with a vibrant effortlessness that shears through the air and stands in total contrast to Branagh’s frantic, distracting busyness."

"This company is far too good to actively screw things up, but a production that should have been superlative verges on the clunky. Dench excepted."

"[In Harlequinade] Branagh is genuinely fantastic as Gosport, a jaded but hopeful old ham whose youthful indiscretions catch up with him as he tours a creaky production of Romeo and Juliet around the provinces. Branagh really is a great comic, bringing a John Cleese-ish deadpan charm to the part of an absurd man entirely detached from reality, sheltered from the outside world by his long-suffering company."

The Winter's Tale and Harlequinade run in rep at the Garrick Theatre until 16 January 2016.