Tom Holland Returns to the Stage

There’s been a number of warmth round London’s new Romeo & Juliet, understandably so given its pairing of director Jamie Lloyd (Betrayal, A Doll’s Home), recognized for his radical reworking of classics, normally round A-list actors, with younger international famous person Tom Holland. The latter is returning to the stage for the primary time since Billy Elliot: The Musical on the very begin of his profession, his title inflicting tickets to promote out in simply two hours.

It’s ironic, then, that one factor this manufacturing itself lacks is warmth — romantic, dramatic, tragic warmth. There’s a lot to commend, but it surely suffers from a single, strategic mistake on the director’s half, to mute the motion, fairly actually, since a lot of it’s performed in whispers and mumbles; even miked, at occasions the actors are barely audible. The result’s that this story of violent household rivalry and brave love has been denuded of its zest, hazard and romance, urgency changed by a pervading melancholy.

At first look — hardcore membership music blaring onto a naked stage that has solely the merest of monochrome trimmings; actors clad in uniformly black garb (t-shirts, hoodies, boots); and the presence of microphone stands — it appears as if this may go the identical manner as Lloyd’s terrific Cyrano de Bergerac: up to date, youthful, dynamic. That play, although, featured James McAvoy’s Cyrano as a grasp of the rap battle; as soon as this one will get going, the beats changed by an industrial hum, the tempo and temperature are altogether completely different.

The largest sufferer of the strategy is the star flip. For essentially the most half, Holland’s Romeo is a subdued, teary, weak, underwhelming fellow; it’s laborious to see why Juliet would go to such lengths for him. When the lad does explode to life — actually a few moments of shouty pleasure — it feels compelled. Whereas Holland does get to point out his puppy-like sweetness and buffed Spiderman physique, he certainly has a greater Romeo in him than this one. 

In distinction, this deserves to be a star-making flip for Francesca Amewudah-Rivers, who has triumphed over the torrent of on-line racial abuse she obtained when solid. The actress, finest recognized within the U.Ok. for tv work that features Unhealthy Training, however with Shakespearean theater turns in Macbeth and Othello, is magnificent, her Juliet the spiky, self-aware, fiercely impartial pulse of the manufacturing.

Whereas different actors (and their characters) are diminished by Lloyd’s lower-key passages, Amewudah-Rivers at all times manages to rise above, with a decibel extra emotion, whether or not quarrelsomeness or spleen or playfulness. Her Juliet completely instructions Romeo, whereas scenes between Juliet and her father, Capulet (Tomiwa Edun) — the pair at livid odds over her resistance to the wedding he has organized for her — are brutal and compelling.

Alongside Edun, there’s additionally glorious help from Freema Agyeman because the nurse, at first splendidly humorous (and delivering a number of the purely Shakespearean verve that’s missing round her) then providing the character’s personal tragedy as she advises her cost in opposition to her coronary heart; and Michael Balogun’s friar, who lends his deus ex machina greater than the standard substance.

It’s unattainable for Lloyd to supply a uninteresting manufacturing. The gorgeous minimal aesthetic is elaborated and enhanced by the presence of two digital camera operators, whose stay photos are projected onto a display screen that dominates the rear of the stage. Generally they observe the actors as they transfer by the bowels of the theatre, and at one level meet up with Romeo as he smokes a cigarette on the roof; however they’re most telling when providing widescreen close-ups that actually pop — particularly when everybody within the theater can see the tears of anger and dismay move down Amewudah-Rivers’ cheeks, or when she declares “If all else fails, I nonetheless have energy to die.”

Whereas using cameras is turning into frequent, a extra authentic tactic right here is to take away all the important thing gadgets of the play’s signature scenes: the balcony from the courtship scene; the swords of the fateful struggle between Tibald and Mercutio (all we have to know conveyed with a extremely efficient bounce scare); the poison and the dagger within the closing, tragic encounter. With out the props and the bodily motion of utilizing them, the main focus is on the feelings at play, and all the higher for it.

Venue: Duke of York’s Theatre, London
Solid: Tom Holland. Francesca Amewudah-Rivers, Freema Agyeman, Michael Balogun, Tomiwa Edun, Daniel Quinn-Toye, Ray Sesay, Nima Taleghani, Joshua-Alexander Williams.
Playwright: William Shakespeare
Director: Jamie Lloyd
Set and costume designer: Soutra Gilmour
Lighting designer: Jon Clark
Music: Michael ‘Mikey J’ Asante
Sound designers: Ben and Max Ringham
Video designers and cinematographers: Nathan Amzi and Joe Ransom
Textual content editor: Nima Taleghani
Offered by The Jamie Lloyd Firm