Romeo & Juliet
Rating: ★★★★★
Venue: Duke of York Theatre, London
Cast: Tom Holland, Francesca Amewudah-Rivers, Freema Agyeman, Michael Balogun, Tomiwa Edun, Mia Jerome, Daniel Quinn-Toye, Ray Sesay, Nima Taleghani and Joshua-Alexander Williams

Tom Holland is Romeo and Francesca Amewudah-Rivers is Juliet in Jamie Lloyd’s pulsating new vision of Shakespeare’s immortal tale of wordsmiths, rhymers, lovers and fighters.

ROMEO & JULIET storms London’s West End for a strictly limited run from May 2024.

With a cast and creative team of this calibre, Jamie Lloyd's Romeo & Juliet was always destined to be an incredible piece of theatre. Higher expectations are set because of this and I went in full of trepidation and anticipation. From the five star rating, it should be evident that it exceeded my expectations, and more. However, like most Lloyd productions, this is going to be a very divisive show. To put it simply, you're either going to love it or despise it - and for me, those are the most exciting productions.

With the tagline, "violent delights have violent ends", I was expecting a certain degree of violence, and it did not disappoint. While most adaptations of Shakespeare's classic tragedy have the hope of the pair's happy ending at its core, this version has a sense of foreboding from the very first meeting. 

If you're unfamiliar with Romeo & Juliet, it follows the story of star-crossed teenage lovers whose families are sworn enemies. After their initial meeting, it's love at first sight and the pair set to elope.  The love story quickly turns to tragedy and bloodshed, and death follows not too far behind.

Jamie Lloyd has taken the greatest love story of all time and made it into the most gritty, visceral piece of theatre I've ever seen. While Lloyd is known for his stripped back productions, Romeo & Juliet is the epitome of this. Gone is the iconic Verona balcony, and is replaced by a bare stage with a few microphone stands. However, a large percentage of the production takes place backstage in varying locations, such as the roof and the foyer, and is then projected onto a dominating screen on stage.

As well as the empty stage, there's not a 1500's costume in sight. Instead costume designer, Soutra Gilmour, has the cast wearing hoodies and plain black clothing. The starkness of colour and distractions on stage means the focal point is the actor's performances. Fortunately, the Duke of York stage is currently home to some of the most talented actors of both stage and screen.

Tom Holland and Francesca Amewudah-Rivers share some of the best onstage chemistry I've ever seen in live theatre. Holland is a quietly charismatic Romeo against Amewudah-Rivers' fiery and bold portrayal of Juliet. The intimacy co-ordination from Ingrid Mackinnon must be applauded here as she's created what appears to be the perfect atmosphere for the pair to thrive and bounce off of each other.

Watching Holland's descent into madness and animalistic rage, and his acting in the end of act one is as raw and exposed as you'll see. Amewudah-Rivers domineers the stage and demands you to take notice of her sensational take on one of literature's most loved female characters.

While the entire cast delivered show-stopping performances, mentions must also go to Freema Agyeman (Doctor Who) and Nima Taleghani (Heartstopper). While the script remains virtually the same, they bring a modern approach to their characters with their interpretations of the characters, and Agyeman's Nurse brings much needed laughs throughout.

I was surprised at the choice of keeping the script as traditional as it was, especially as the costumes and set design hinted otherwise. However, the story has been around for centuries because the source material is so impactful. The sound design from Ben and Max Ringham, and lighting design from Jon Clark is so striking that it's almost jarring at times, which seems to be its intention, and works well against the emptiness of the stage.

Jamie Lloyd has once again created an absolutely ground-breaking production. Whether good or bad, this adaptation will certainly have people talking and is a true reflection of the subjectiveness of theatre. It's also worth mentioning that I saw the show in previews so I'm excited for my return visit in a few months to take note of any changes, or evolution of the show.

You can find out more about this production of Romeo & Juliet, here.

**photo credit: Marc Brenner**

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