Critics praise Tom Holland in Romeo And Juliet but question minimalism of set

The West End production of Romeo And Juliet saw star Tom Holland praised for his performance, while the adaption overall received mixed reviews due to director Jamie Lloyd’s stripped-back style.

Spider-Man actor Holland was sporting a shorter haircut for his leading role as Romeo Montague opposite Francesca Amewudah-Rivers as Juliet Capulet in Lloyd’s production of Shakespeare’s romantic tragedy.

The cast celebrated the production’s opening night on Thursday at the Duke of York Theatre as Holland was pictured leaving the theatre with girlfriend and Hollywood star Zendaya on his arm.

The Times’ critic Clive Davis awarded the production three stars out of five, opening the review by questioning if Holland’s fans will be left feeling “short-changed” due to the actors being shown on screens at times during the production instead of always on stage.

“The USP of this latest Jamie Lloyd production is, after all, the opportunity to see one of the biggest stars of multiplex cinema in the flesh”, Davis writes.

“All credit to the Brit who plays Spider-Man on the big screen for taking on the challenge of performing modern-dress Shakespeare in the West End.

“But given how much Lloyd enjoys using digital technology, Holland’s admirers may wonder why they spend a fair amount of the evening watching their idol on a screen.”

He adds that he feels Holland “certainly doesn’t disgrace himself” when playing the “quiet, fresh-faced and sensitive” take on Romeo, but he feels the director is the “dominant figure” in the production due to how he has reinvented the Shakespearean classic.

Critic Patrick Marmion, writing for the Daily Mail, gave the production four out of five stars. He acknowledged that it is following a trend of “celebrity minimalism,” such as Nicole Scherzinger in Sunset Boulevard.

He said Lloyd’s adaption only requires Holland “to reach the giddy heights of a microphone stand”, but said the smile he “scatters on his beloved are – in Hollywood terms – worth a million dollars”, while Amewudah-Rivers “holds up well as Juliet”.

Mr Marmion described the production as “monotone, monochrome and mannered”, adding he missed the “colour of the masked ball where Romeo and Juliet meet, and the drama of the sword fight when Romeo calamitously kills Juliet’s cousin Tybalt”.

David Benedict from Variety said that although it began “undeniably arresting” with the “captivating” relationship between Holland and Amewudah-Rivers, “it gradually hits you that they’re reciting words at, rather than to, the audience.”

The critic suggests this is due to the “fiercely stripped-down” aesthetic in Lloyd’s adaptation, with the “most attention-grabbing element” being sound.

“The result, worryingly, is the absence of anything approaching connection…Both actors are hobbled by the logical (over) extension of Lloyd’s approach,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Telegraph’s theatre critic Dominic Cavendish gave the production a full five stars.

“Tom Holland mesmerises in this once-in-a-generation production,” he said.

The part marks 27-year-old Holland’s first major theatre role since his debut as a child star in Billy Elliot: The Musical at the Victoria Palace Theatre in 2008.

Arifa Akbar, a critic for the Guardian, gave the production three out of five stars, suggesting Holland “navigates the transition from Marvel’s Spider-Man to Shakespeare’s Romeo smoothly”.

“The chemistry is most definitely there, even if it feels deliberately restrained in Jamie Lloyd’s turbo-stylised production,” she said.

While “the deliberate underplaying of emotion ultimately leeches the play of its tragedy, with an end that leaves you in dry-eyed admiration”, she added.

The Independent’s Tim Bano gave the adaption two out of five stars.

“This is less ‘Jamie Lloyd does Shakespeare’, more ‘Jamie Lloyd does Jamie Lloyd’, ” he said.

Mr Bano said there were no “blow-away performances”, suggesting the actors were “constricted by the production that’s been built around them”.

“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. It imposes too much on them rather than liberating them.

“…Love is a many-splendoured thing, not a mutter into a mic,” he said.

Last month, the theatre company behind the West End production condemned “deplorable racial abuse” directed towards one of its stars.

Romeo And Juliet has been staged hundreds of times in the West End and The Crown actor Josh O’Connor and Irish star Jessie Buckley appeared in a version of the play, filmed for TV inside the National Theatre in 2021.

Other actors to play Romeo on stage include Harry Potter star Alfred Enoch, Lord Of The Rings actor Sir Ian McKellen, Game Of Thrones’ Sean Bean and Bodyguard actor Richard Madden.

Holland is world-famous for playing the title role in the latest Spider-Man superhero movies, including Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) and Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019).

He has also starred in the psychological thriller The Crowded Room and the historical drama Wolf Hall on TV.

Romeo And Juliet will run at the Duke Of York’s Theatre until August 3.