Review: ROMEO & JULIET, Duke Of York's Theatre

It is Francesca Amewudah-Rivers who truly steals this show.

By: May. 24, 2024
Review: ROMEO & JULIET, Duke Of York's Theatre
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Review: ROMEO & JULIET, Duke Of York's Theatre

Director Jamie Lloyd has taken on the challenge of William Shakespeare’s iconic Romeo & Juliet, bringing his trademark style of theatre to the Duke of York’s theatre this summer. Starring Tom Holland as Romeo and Francesca Amewudah-Rivers as Juliet, this production brings us into the world of Verona as the star-crossed lovers must fight for their love. 

The set, designed by Soutra Gilmour, is bare, save for a large screen that is able to move up, down, forwards and backwards on stage, being used not only to project video but also as a form of set piece, typically representing the walls of Verona. There are no balconies, no vials of poison and no swords, leaving it up to the actors to allow the audience to imagine what is happening through their bodies alone. Luckily, this cast is up to the challenge. 

Review: ROMEO & JULIET, Duke Of York's Theatre
Photo Credit: Marc Brenner

Holland, most well-known to most as Peter Parker, AKA Spider-Man, in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, returns to the stage after over a decade. He does a fantastic job with both moments of romance and those of anger, being reduced to tears at several points throughout the show and reaching the breaking point of his character with ease. While he is the star billing of the show, it is Amewudah-Rivers who truly steals the show, with her Juliet taking charge in the relationship and longing to live life the way she chooses. 

The chemistry between Holland and Amewudah-Rivers is beautiful, making the impending doom all the more tragic. When they first meet, it feels like a moment from a romantic comedy, with Romeo stumbling over his words and Juliet fondly rolling her eyes.

Most of their conversations, just like the majority throughout, are not done facing one another, but facing the audience, allowing audience members to see the full level of expression as they speak. It makes for some unique moments, especially the iconic balcony scene, which is done with Holland and Amewudah-Rivers simply standing next to one another, speaking out into the darkness of the theatre. 

Review: ROMEO & JULIET, Duke Of York's Theatre
Photo Credit: Marc Brenner

The pair are supported by a fantastic cast of actors. Freema Agyeman nearly steals the show as Nurse several times throughout, her fiery personality and protectiveness over Juliet shining through the bleakness surrounding them. Tomiwa Edun makes for a solid father figure to Juliet as Capulet, but it is Michael Balogun who takes on the most paternal role in the show, desperately trying to aid Romeo and Juliet while keeping the peace between the warring Montagues and Capulets.

While a bit underutilised, Joshua-Alexander Williams is a passionate Mercutio, often see carrying his microphone around with him on stage to further emphasise his feelings and express them to not only those on stage but the audience. 

The music, composed by Michael ‘Mikey J’ Asante (sound design by Ben and Max Ringham), acts as a heartbeat to the show, nearly constantly thrumming in the background and sometimes overpowering both actors and audience members when emotions are running high, making for even more impactful scenes in which there is silence.

Walking into the Duke of York’s Theatre, you are greeted by intense and pulsing music, as if you have entered a club. This perfectly sets the scene for a restless Verona, where the young men are fighting in the streets and death is around the corner. The sound, combined by the lighting by Jon Clark, force the audience to reflect on the contrast of light and dark, sometimes being unable to see in blackouts and then suddenly being blinded by bursts of light. Juliet tends to be framed in a beautiful glow while Romeo has a tendency to be shrouded in darkness, the two melding together under a stark spotlight in their moments alone. 

Operated by Callum Heinrich and Kody Mortimer, the cameras are not a constant presence, as there are several scenes that take place without the use of screens, but they are still integral to this production. In one particularly stunning moment, we are given an aerial view of Holland and Amewudah-Rivers asleep next to one another, which makes for a beautiful moment of romance between the two even though no touches are exchanged.

Like Sunset Boulevard, the action is also not limited to the stripped down stage. The Capulet party, for instance, takes place in the theatre’s golden and extravagant lobby, a sharp contrast to the dark and empty stage. In fact, our introduction to Romeo is also off-stage, with Holland wandering the backstage halls before emerging. Throughout the show, we are given glimpses of characters moving around backstage. Another scene takes place on the roof, though it may not be the one you expect it to be.

Review: ROMEO & JULIET, Duke Of York's Theatre
Photo Credit: Marc Brenner

An aspect of the show that Lloyd has deployed before is its use of microphones and how the actors present themselves to the audience. The microphones become an extension of the characters, typically being used when they need to express something deeper than simply speaking into the air. 

The humour of the play is able to shine through, even when everyone is shrouded in darkness. But, as one might expect, the more tragic moments are the highlights as the characters express their fury and heartbreak. While the final scene may be underwhelming for some, it leaves a powerful impact simply seeing the two actors sitting together, finally at peace. 

Romeo & Juliet is a fascinating interpretation of the Shakespearean classic that, with the direction of Lloyd, allows the audience to see a sharp contrast between the darkness and light surrounding Verona. 

Romeo & Juliet runs until 3 August at the Duke of York’s Theatre.

Photo Credits: Marc Brenner

Photo Credit: Marc Brenner


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