Tom Holland in Romeo and Juliet – reviews roundup 3.3★

Duke Of York’s Theatre

Tom Holland & Francesca Amewudah-Rivers in Romeo & Juliet. Photo: Marc Brenner

The hordes of Tom Holland fans may have little interest in Jamie Lloyd’s production of Romeo and Juliet, or even in the acting, but the critics had plenty to say about both. It’s not unusual to have mixed reviews but rare that they range from 5 stars to 1 star. What divided them was the multi-media production which thrilled some and alienated others. Reviews of Mr Holland were mainly complimentary, although it was Francesca Amewudah-Rivers’ Juliet that took the acting laurels.

[Links to full reviews are included but a number are behind paywalls and therefore may not be accessible]

Dominic Cavendish in the Telegraph (5★) was taken to the heights. ‘The West End hasn’t ever really seen an R&J like it,’ he claimed. He described its Hollywood star as ‘beefy of bicep, but pale, achingly tender, at times teary and then cheery, all hormonal vulnerability’ but reserved his greatest praise for Juliet: ‘Amewudah-Rivers, 26, is a huge find, by turns understated, coy, comically off-hand, and defiantly passionate.’  He praised director Lloyd for ‘placing the lyrical language centre-stage.’ His conclusion? ‘The street-wise, star-cross’d lovers hold us in their spell, stamp the play with a 2024 freshness’

Patrick Marmion in the Mail (4★) went all weak-kneed: ‘Sometimes, it even feels as if Lloyd is deliberately trying to throttle the life out of the febrile passion that normally drives this headlong love story. And yet, cometh the hour, cometh the (Spider) man… all 5ft 8ins of him. Damn, he’s a buff and good-looking bloke. His commanding cheekbones and curving jaw suck the breath from the audience and keep us wrapped in his dreamy gaze.’ The Standard‘s Nick Curtis (4★) asserted, ‘They’re the most spellbinding star-crossed lovers I’ve seen in years.’ Tom Holland, he said, ‘gives us an impressive foreshadowing of the classical actor he could become.’ Of the production, he told us, ‘The action is sliced, diced and interspliced into a brisk two hours, laced with occasional anachronisms, blinding lights and jagged bursts of industrial music.’ In defence of Jamie Lloyd, he said, ‘the narrow view of Lloyd’s productions as mere star vehicles ignores his always-detailed ensemble work and the way he promotes new talent. Freema Agyeman and Michael Balogun find rarely-plumbed depths in the Nurse and the Friar here.’

Olivia Rook at London Theatre (4★) called it ‘a sexy, intense, and haunting piece of theatre.’ ‘Holland’s assured performance…graduates from laddish confidence to rippling rage. His talent is easily met by rising star Francesca Amewudah-Rivers.’ Sarah Hemming writing for The Financial Times (4★) had this analysis, ‘this is a compelling production: vivid, sad, restless. It brings home forcefully — and perhaps this is its point in today’s world — that death is not romantic.’
Andrzej Lukowski In Time Out (4★) decided, ‘this is a show about dead people. It’s staged like a particularly stylish radio play, the cast frequently standing static but artfully framed, talking into old fashioned floor mics.’ As to the actors, ‘Holland has a powerful stillness to him’ and Francesca Amewudah-Rivers ‘has a beautiful voice, an elegant lilt that works perfectly in a production that eschews physical business.’ He advised, ‘adjust to its fugue state and it’s deeply compelling.’

Susanna Clapp in The Observer (4★) said (and she’s seen a few) Francesca Amewudah-Rivers ‘is one of the best Juliets I have seen…I have never heard “What’s in a name?” considered with such precise wonder.’ Tom Holland is ‘light but concentrated, not soggy with romanticism but slipping easily in and out of tears…Together they fizz, often humorously, pointing up the verse with 21st-century inflections.’

Then come the reservations about Jamie Lloyd’s production. Sam Marlowe in The Stage (3★) found ‘the use of mics is inconsistent and seems to serve no particular purpose, and some of the filmed footage is equally confusing.’ Nevertheless she thought ‘Lloyd’s production is an arresting vision of an inequitable society in freefall, and of lost young people desperately attempting to navigate the disintegration guided by nothing but their own confused and fervid feelings.’ Arifa Akbar of The Guardian (3★) thought  ‘Holland and Amewudah-Rivers are perfectly cast, wired with an awkwardly cool teen energy, she a mix of innocence and streetwise steel, he jittering with sweaty-palmed earnestness’ but ‘Actors speak their lines – in a line – at the audience, a recurring tic in Lloyd’s work, now more insistently puzzling in its distancing, anti-dramatic effects, and too stilted to let loose the play’s passion.’ In the end, she felt that ‘The deliberate underplaying of emotion ultimately leeches the play of its tragedy.’

The Times’ Clive Davis (3★) declared himself ‘more perplexed than gripped‘. He explained, ‘What we get here is auteur theatre in which the actors are reduced to chess pieces to be nudged here and there by an invisible hand.’ It was, he said, ‘a conscientious but colourless radio drama’ in which ‘characters often address microphones rather than each other’. However he had positive words about Tom Holland: ‘This Romeo is quiet, fresh-faced and sensitive. In the opening scenes he really does convince you that he is an adolescent adrift, waiting to abandon himself to a doomed romance’.

’I was always interested, but I can’t say it made feel much,’ said Dominic Maxwell in The Sunday Times (3★).

After that, it gets worse. Hugh Montgomery of the BBC (2★) found it ‘a depressingly lifeless affair, which somehow manages to be both overstated and underpowered.’ ‘What really sinks things,’ he said, ‘is the continuous use of live camerawork.’ ‘Rather than the thrill of an unmediated live experience, the audience is dislocated from the performers, the performers are dislocated from each other, and there is little sense of a coherent world in which the characters exist.’ Tim Bano in The Independent (2★) called it ‘a Romeo & Juliet muttered through head mics, housed in a shell of industrial chic – or it was chic the first time Lloyd did it.’ As to the star-crossed lovers: ‘Holland’s acting skills are abundant in all the bits when he’s not speaking…he acts best with his face, she with her voice.’

Neil Norman of The Express (1★) didn’t mince his words: ‘Absolute drivel.’ He explained, ‘how quickly the trademarks of a Jamie Lloyd production have become clichéd and predictable.’ He didn’t like the star attraction either, ‘As Romeo, Tom Holland is a charisma free zone, achieving the unlikely feat of being both buff and weedy.’

Average critics’ rating 3.3★
Value Rating 21 (Value rating is the Average Critic Rating divided by the typical ticket price.)

Romeo & Juliet runs at the Duke Of York’s Theatre until 3 August 2024. Buy tickets direct from

If you’ve seen Romeo & Juliet, please add your review and rating below

Be the first to write a review

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *