Star Crossed Lovers

“Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.
From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life;”


Tom Holland as Romeo and Francesca Amewudah-Rivers as Juliet. (Photo: Marc Brenner)

Yesterday afternoon, the crowds at the Stage Door of the Duke of York’s Theatre in St Martin’s Lane had blocked the traffic.  Were they rival Manchester City and United football fans in London for the FA Cup Final?  No.  They were here to try to spot film star Tom Holland who is playing Romeo in Romeo and Juliet.   Tom Holland, an English actor, is best known for his portrayal of Spiderman for Marvel and he has a considerable fan base. 

Jamie Lloyd has built a reputation on his more experimental productions of the classics.  He has lured Tom Holland to the West End for three months, the first time since he took over the title role in Billy Elliot in 2008.  The excitement in the lobby of the theatre is buoyant as the audience gathers.  Once inside, it is as if we are looking at a prison, it is very dark and 3D letters spell VERONA behind the cast iron railings. 

Shakespeare’s text has been edited by Nima Taleghani to be more up to date and I think I heard him as Benvolio say, “Init!”  The introductory speech is beautifully spoken by Michael Balogun, who played Delroy in Death of England, seen here as Friar Lawrence.  This prologue is played on a large screen as three camera operators film individual actors with hand held cameras.  The harsh concrete music and sound effects from the Ringhams make it seem as if Verona is in the midst of a war. All the actors are miked so that they can be heard off stage and can speak without projecting onstage.  There is no set other than darkness and when we see them, the costumes are dark hoodies, modern street wear. 

Tom Holland as Romeo. (Photo: Marc Brenner)

Romeo (Tom Holland) makes his entrance filmed in the back rooms of the Duke of York’s Theatre.  All we see of him at first is his hooded top from behind.  When he arrives onstage his hand is bloodied and he is visibly shocked by the sight of his own blood.  We go straight into his edited speech about his love but few will realise that he is talking about his first love, Juliet’s cousin, Rosaline, unless they know the play.  Mercutio (Joshua-Alexander Williams) makes his “Queen Mab” speech to try to convince Romeo that his obsession with Rosaline will pass.

A scene between Juliet’s father Capulet (Tomiwa Edun) and Paris (Daniel Quinn-Toye) is the first we hear of his marital plans for his daughter.  The Nurse (Freema Agyeman) who was Juliet’s wet nurse recalls the child Susan that she lost and how she has known Juliet ever since. 

Bizarrely the Capulet’s Ball is live filmed in the theatre lobby with the Champagne Bar in the background.  The irony is that when we hear “But soft what light from yonder window breaks,”  there is no actual light. 

Francesca Amewudah-Rivers is thrilling as Juliet with superb intonation and touching delivery of her lines.  As Juliet, she is a revelation, she is beautiful, fresh and natural. She is a sympathetic love for Tom Holland’s sensitive and gentle Romeo.  Although there is little physical drama to watch, just words to listen to, the Nurse notices Romeo’s muscular arms and comments on Juliet’s luck, “Lord, she’ll be a joyful woman!” she says.

Cast (Photo: Marc Brenner)

The fight where Mercutio is killed by Tybalt (Ray Sesay) is unclear as to what has happened off stage but Act Two opens making it clear that Tybalt is also dead.  “Did Romeo’s hand shed Tybalt’s blood?” asks Juliet when she is told that Romeo is banishèd.  I liked the scene where the Nurse, Romeo, Juliet and the Friar all line up at standing mics which means all the dialogue can be spoken without any change of scene. 

Later as if in cinema, Juliet lies in bed behind her projected image with Romeo behind.  Capulet is threatening to poison Romeo.  Romeo travels to Mantua, the rooftop of the theatre through the back stage rooms and stairs where he smokes a cigarette.  Benvolio tells Romeo that Juliet is dead having left Verona as the Friar’s plan was put into effect.  Capulet had locked the doors so that the Nurse’s message could not get through about Juliet appearing dead. 

In my opinion, the director’s vision has made this live theatre too filmic, too lacking in colour and light and set and costume with the continuous musique concrete. 

A touching triple embrace is seen as the Friar holds the dead bodies of Juliet and Romeo like a Pietà.  My verdict is that this version of Romeo and Juliet has to live or die by the performances of Holland and Amewudah-Rivers and fortunately both are excellent.  Romeo is very sympathetic, a victim of ancient grudge and Juliet a worthy match.  Remembering the play, nothing relevant and visual remains, just the connection between the lovers.

Dano=iel Quinn-Toye as Paris. (Photo: Marc Brenner)

Production Notes

Romeo and Juliet

Written by William Shakespeare

Text Edited by Nima Taleghani

Directed by Jamie Lloyd



Freema Agyeman

Michael Balogun

Nima Taleghani

Francesca Amewudah-Rivers

Kody Mortimer

Ray Sesay

Mia Jerome

Tom Holland

Tomiwa Edun

Daniel Quinn-Toye

Joshua-Alexander Williams

Callum Heinrich


Director: Jamie Lloyd

Designer:  Soutra Gilmour

Movement: Sarah Golding, Yukiko Masui (SAY)

Composer: Michael ‘Mikey J’ Asante

Intimacy director: Ingrid Mackinnon

Lighting Designer: Jon Clark

Sound Designer: Ben and Max Ringham

Video/projection designer Nathan Amzi, Joe Ransom

Camera Operators: Callum Heinrich,

Kody Mortimer, Harriet Bunton


Running Time: Two hours 15 minutes with an interval

Booking to 3rd August 2024


Duke of York’s Theatre

104 St Martin’s Lane

London  WC2N 4BG

Phone: 03330 096 690


Tube: Charing Cross

Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge at the

Duke of York’s 

at the matinée on 25th May 2024