Romeo & Juliet review roundup: What critics are saying about Tom Holland’s Shakespeare starring role

Tom Holland’s eagerly anticipated Shakespeare debut in Jamie Lloyd’s Romeo & Juliet production has received mixed reviews from critics following opening night at the Duke of York’s theatre on Thursday (23 May).

The Spider-Man actor, 27, returned to the London stage for the first time since playing Billy Elliott on the West End in 2008. He stars in Lloyd’s production alongside Francesca Amewudah-Rivers as Juliet, with critics calling the stripped back Shakespeare show “sad”, “muted” and “ruthlessly edited”.

The Independent’s Tim Bano calls Holland a “sad boy in a white vest” and claims his “acting skills are abundant in all the bits when he’s not speaking”. He explains Holland’s “line delivery is a bit flat” and too “sing-song” while Amewudah-Rivers is “mostly impassive” and she acts best “with her voice” while Holland is best “with his face”.

Bano’s two star review lamented Lloyd’s austere aesthetic and the production’s use of live video: “As much as it’s meant to be a stripping back, soon those cameras, the constant murmuring, the grinding sounds, the need to be cool ALL THE TIME gets in the way of performances,” he wrote. “It imposes too much on them rather than liberating them.”

The Guardian’s Arifa Akbar gave Lloyd’s Romeo & Juliet three stars and said Holland and Amewudah-Rivers had been perfectly cast. She praised their “awkwardly cool teen energy” and “deliberately restrained” chemistry.

However, she also took issue with Lloyd’s stripped back approach to Shakespeare, writing the director’s style is “puzzling in its distancing” and the play’s “anti-dramatic effects” are “too stilted to let loose the play’s passion”.

“When scenes are traditionally acted out, they are tremendous – immaculately performed and full of feeling,” she writes. “We ache for them to continue.”

Tom Holland and Francesca Amewudah-Rivers in Jamie Lloyd’s production of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ (Marc Brenner)
Tom Holland and Francesca Amewudah-Rivers in Jamie Lloyd’s production of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ (Marc Brenner)

Meanwhile, The Time’s Clive Davis three star review similarly calls Lloyd’s Romeo & Juliet “muted” and “too formulaic”, adding the play’s final scenes feel like “eavesdropping on a conscientious but colourless radio drama”.

Davis adds the show’s “throbbing sound effects and flashing lights” provide “abrupt punctuation” to the Shakespeare text and the opening night audience left the theatre “perplexed”rather than “gripped” by Lloyd’s production.

The Telegraph are significantly more positive about Lloyd’s Romeo & Juliet, giving the “ruthlessly edited” production five stars. Dominic Cavendish claims the play “ravishes” viewers, although it may “startle fans with its line of attack”.

Cavendish praises Lloyd for slowing down the pace of the Shakespeare play, claiming the mics taped to Holland and Amewudah-Rivers’ faces place “lyrical language centre-stage” while the live video “adds to the curious, meditative effect” of the two hour show.

The BBC’s Hugh Montgomery says in his review that, although Holland is not to blame, Lloyd’s production of Romeo & Juliet is “lifeless”. He instead pins the fault on the director’s “gimmicky, oppressively dour staging”, adding the show manages to be at once “overstated and underpowered” with its modern twists and minimal set design.

“Lloyd seems to also want to make Romeo and Juliet into some kind of nihilistic horror,” he claims.

Read The Independent’s two-star review here.