'Romeo & Juliet' review — Tom Holland stars in a sexy, intense, and haunting piece of theatre

Read our review of Romeo & Juliet, starring Tom Holland and Francesca Amewudah-Rivers, now in performances at the Duke of York's Theatre to 3 August.

Olivia Rook
Olivia Rook

Auteur director Jamie Lloyd is back in the West End only months after dazzling audiences with his revival of the Nicole Scherzinger-led, Olivier Award-winning Sunset Boulevard. This time, he has set his sights on Shakespeare’s great tragedy, Romeo & Juliet, creating a sexy, intense, and haunting piece of theatre that bears all the hallmarks of a Jamie Lloyd production.

There’s smoke, microphones, cameras, a fair amount of blood, and incredible star power in the form of Spider-Man actor Tom Holland, who is returning to the West End in his first major role since Billy Elliot in 2008. And what an entrance he is given.

Lloyd’s iconic video work plays into the celebrity of his leading man, as Holland walks towards the stage from behind the scenes, trailed by a cameraman who captures only his hooded head and shoulders, surrounded in a cloud of cigarette smoke. The suspense is palpable and fans of the Hollywood actor are unlikely to be disappointed by Holland’s assured performance, which graduates from laddish confidence to rippling rage.

His talent is easily met by rising star Francesca Amewudah-Rivers, whose confident Juliet appears more woman than girl. She rewrites their courtship in the balcony scene (though no balcony is present here, as Lloyd’s stripped-back staging places Romeo and Juliet side by side), instructing Romeo to “swear not by the moon,” as though surprised he would suggest something so ridiculous. Amewudah-Rivers breathes new life into Shakespeare’s words, reframing the power dynamics at play in her relationship with Romeo. The scene fizzes with chemistry as the pair lock eyes, their bodies only ever inches from a full embrace.

This passion struggles to come through in other parts of the production, however, in large part due to Lloyd’s stylised direction. When Romeo and Juliet first meet at the Capulet party, Amewudah-Rivers’s image is beamed onto a screen as Holland looks out to the audience. While the close-up nature of the shot creates some intimacy, the camerawork gets in the way of that instant spark when Romeo and Juliet first lay eyes on each other.

The pace also suffers, slowing down after a frenzied and exhilarating end to the first half. Amewudah-Rivers and Holland’s passion bubbles beneath the surface, frustratingly just out of reach, as they whisper into microphones and cast long stares out to the audience. It is a criticism which is most keenly felt during the play’s denouement when each takes their own life in the cavernous Capulet tomb. There is barely a hair’s breadth between them, but there may as well be a wall.

The leads are supported by a strong ensemble cast, of both established and emerging talent. Doctor Who actor Freema Agyeman, in particular, stands out for her multilayered performance as the Nurse, bawdy and humorous as she strokes Holland’s biceps, proclaiming Juliet “will be a joyful woman”, but also capable of depth and despair when she learns of Tybalt’s death.

Tomiwa Edun as Capulet is brutally cold when he demands Juliet must marry Paris, while Nima Taleghani’s Benvolio brings some needed comic relief. Joshua-Alexander Williams, who makes his professional debut as Mercutio, is haunting in his trance-like state during the Queen Mab speech.

While there are elements of Lloyd’s distinctive directorial style that land more successfully than others, there is an undeniable, captivating intensity to his smoky staging of Shakespeare’s tragic love story.

Check back for Romeo & Juliet tickets on London Theatre.

Photo credit: Tom Holland and Francesca Amewudah-Rivers in Romeo & Juliet. (Photo by Marc Brenner)

Originally published on

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