Photo: Marc Brenner

There’s a lot of hype around this revival of Romeo & Juliet, and it’s not hard to see why – it’s rare to have a star quite as famous as Tom Holland on London’s West End. Couple that with this being a Jamie Lloyd production – Lloyd having brought us last year’s enjoyably ridiculous revival of Sunset Blvd, which swept the Olivier Awards and is due to open on Broadway this year – and it’s understandable that there’s a great deal of excitement for this production, which is pretty much already sold out.

There aren’t really many plays more famous than Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet – the tale of star crossed lovers is regularly performed, a major Baz Luhrmann film, and also probably something we read growing up (those of us that went to school in the UK). In the lead roles are Tom Holland and Francesca Amewudah-Rivers. The supporting cast is strong – we particularly enjoyed Freema Agyeman as Nurse, and Heartstopper’s Nima Taleghani as Benvolio, both of whom demonstrate expert comic timing.

Something that surprised us about this particular Romeo & Juliet – it’s actually quite funny, particularly act one. A lot of humour is wrung from the lines and there are some wonderfully comedic facial expressions, which we can see clearly, magnified by the use of video technology. For those who saw Lloyd’s Sunset Blvd, it won’t come as too much of a surprise to learn that this production uses cameras and screens rather liberally. Like that show, Romeo & Juliet uses the entire theatre – there are segments which play out in the bar areas, staircases, even one on the roof – which are live streamed onto the stage.

For all that it gets right, however, we felt this play was something of a mixed bag. There are moments which feel exciting and urgent, but there are also times when it all feels a bit slow and dull. The monochrome aesthetic, which works well in places, feels drab elsewhere. For the most part it looks pretty stylish, but it doesn’t always quite land and that’s a shame.

Dare we say it – we also weren’t entirely sold on Holland’s performance. He’s certainly a talented actor with great stage presence, but throughout we felt his emotion was somewhat underplayed – which felt like a deliberate choice, but the result was that we didn’t really invest in the love between the pair, which meant their tragedy didn’t really make us feel anything. 

We certainly enjoyed our time with Romeo & Juliet, and we’re glad we caught it, but given the star names attached to this production and the amount of hype surrounding it, we just wanted something a bit more. At times it feels cool, stylish, original – but this doesn’t always quite land as it should. We really wanted to love this show, but in the end we just ended up… liking it. If you’re wanting to go, it’s pretty hard to get hold of seats, although standing tickets are released each week.

GAY TIMES gives Romeo & Juliet – 3/5

More information can be found here.