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Romeo and Juliet review: ‘Seamless and brilliantly acted’

I enter the Duke of York’s Theatre to a thumping soundtrack that rattles through my bones. It feels like I’ve entered the beginnings of a dystopian action film, like I’m waiting for something to jump out from around the corner. If he was trying to build tension then Jamie Lloyd does it well, because I couldn’t wait for the play to start. By the time I found my seat I was practically shaking with excitement (and a slight twinge of fear for what was in store). 

The stage is blackout to begin and then the light snaps on and ‘VERONA’ is projected across the stage; almost bare apart from four mic stands positioned in a semi circular fashion. The actors used these throughout the production to allow changes in volume, right down to a whisper. It added a haunting quality to some scenes, and an intensity to others. Another interesting tech choice came from the way actors entered the stage. Romeo starts in the wings of the stage, with a camera following him as he journeys to enter the main stage; a lady somewhere beside me in the stalls shrieked with excitement as Tom Holland blesses our presence, in all his buzz cut, tight white tank and baggy jeans glory – it was obvious he was the major ticket seller. 

And the love for him does not go unplaced. Holland put on a stellar performance as Romeo harking back to his before-film-stardom-days and fully embracing his theatrical roots; really making me reconnect with a Shakespeare play I have spent years hating (GCSE trauma…). But even more striking was his acting and reacting alongside Juliet, played by Francesca Amewudah-Rivers, that reminded me of the beautiful love that truly connects the play at its base. The tension between the two actors during the infamous balcony scene was undeniable, it had me giggling and kicking my feet, and I found myself truly wanting their love to succeed against society’s odds. The staging went against the conventions of the typical balcony scene, Lloyd placing the two stars beside one another centre stage rather than having Juliet on an elevated platform. Though proxemically they were close, their dialogue and facial reactions indicated that she was indeed still on a balcony above him. When they finally come together the tension mounts a notch further. They seem to be getting closer and closer and yet still not touching. When they finally do it’s like that building tension is finally released – before we remember again the high stakes nature of their meeting. As the scene ends I find myself hopeful for them, even though I know the tragic end that is to come. 

Another key scene in the play that was also utilised on stage was the fight, and ultimate death, scene between Tybalt and Mercutio. Lighting and tech is utilised well again here, a blackout and cacophony of sound disrupting the stage at the height of the fight, only to suddenly stop and snappily reilluminate the stage. The audience now finds Mercutio splayed across the floor screaming ‘a plague on both your houses’ with his dying breath, whilst he and all other characters on stage are smothered in thick red blood. The same cycle repeats except this time reilluminating the stage on Tybalt’s dying body, nevertheless, we are still just as shocked and gripped by this death as we were with Mercutio’s. This was also a smart way of cutting out a large choreographed fight scene that every Shakespeare fan will have seen a million times before, and still maintaining the shock factor that the text tries to convey with these sudden and brutal deaths. 

The production was seamless and brilliantly acted by every cast member. Finishing to a well deserved deafening applause and a standing ovation, Holland and Amewudah-Rivers take their final bow. “New, fresh and exciting” is a hard evaluation to achieve when doing Shakespeare, but I would deign to make that claim for this piece. If you are fortunate enough to get your hands on tickets, you are in for a wild ride.

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