Romeo & Juliet - Jamie Lloyd - Review

When Jamie Lloyd announced that his latest production would be Romeo and Juliet and star Tom Holland in one of the title roles, the hype around this show was like nothing I had seen before with a piece of theatre. Getting a ticket was reminiscent of getting one of Wonka's Golden Ticket's and somehow I was successful in scoring one of these sought after tickets; albeit in what was dubbed as a slight restricted view. But would the hype of Spiderman taking on another iconic role truly win me over, or would it be a case of a show not living up to the Olivier Award winning older sister (Sunset Boulevard). 

If you are unaware of the story of Romeo and Juliet, then I'm afraid you may have been living on another planet. Dubbed one of the greatest yet tragic love stories of all time, this tale of star crossed lovers has been adapted and translated into different iterations more times that anyone could count. From the humble beginnings from the pen of the Bard himself, Romeo and Juliet follows a young couple from rival families as they fall in love and are willing to sacrifice anything for love, even if that means their own lives. 

Taking on a Shakespeare play is no mean feat. With somewhat dated language and versions and revivals being done again and again, it's hard to make something original out of this classic text. However, Jamie Lloyd has taken on that challenge and somewhat made something that will leave you being reminded of just how stripped back and modern his adaptations are. 

Set in a Verona like no other, there is little to no set in this tale. In fact apart from a few microphones, a huge projection screen, and some handheld camera's there is nothing else to tell you that you aren't sat in an empty theatre. With jarring music that almost gave me a headache, you are thrust into a modern world that is filled with Uniqlo basics as costumes, and extremes of acting that made you question what you were watching at times. 

The show is interspersed with close up camera projections, and clips of the characters either backstage or weaving throughout the theatre. Whilst this worked really well with Sunset Boulevard due to it's cinematic connections, it initially felt like a rehashed playbook. However, as the show went on, the importance of these close ups truly helped me (in the cheap seats) to connect with the characters and provided those all important interactions that we needed to see. I did feel that it left a huge disconnect between it being a play in a theatre and a film that was being live streamed. 

The performers that took on these roles performed with every fibre in them. Tom Holland portrayed Romeo as a slightly hardened Londoner who was torn between loyalty to his love and his family. His scene on the rooftop truly showcasing his talents but you could have easily placed any current west end actor into that role and it would have played out the same. However my stand out performances must go to Francesca Amewuah-Rivers who played Juliet and Freema Agyema who played the Nurse. Not only did their on stage chemistry blow me away, their characterisations alone held the show together. I loved Francesca's innocence on stage. How she commands the stage and wowed the audience in a way that makes you understand why Romeo falls for her. And Freema's Nurse was the comedic touch that we needed throughout this play. Her timing and bright characterisation was the perfect balance to this otherwise dark play.  

I fear that my opinions of this show may be jaded by the seat in which I was sat. For I unfortunately missed out on some vital interactions between characters as a lot of the action is based on the steps at the front of the stage. Whilst this gives a level of intimacy and plays into the secrecy of the love between Romeo and Juliet, it does mean that anyone sat in the balcony, or in somewhere that had a slightly obstructed view, missed these moments of sincerity. And when one of those vital scenes is the iconic balcony scene itself, you are left slightly disheartened that with all the technology used in the show, that Jamie Lloyd did not think about ensuring that his show was accessible to all. Especially those in the cheap seats. For me, these scenes would have worked incredibly well with a camera projecting the intimacy between the characters alongside them sitting at the front. Showing the magnitude of their betrayal to their families alongside the secrecy of their meetings. It would have allowed everyone a snapshot into what was happening. 

What made us fall in love with Lloyd's Sunset Boulevard is unfortunately what made me fall out of love with Lloyd's Romeo and Juliet. I adored the acting. Each performer was nothing short of outstanding in their roles, but the stripped back aspect took away from the heart of what the show stands for. It felt like there was a huge disconnection between actors and audience at times when that connection needed to be as strong as it could be. By cutting out significant moments such as the fight and leaving us with a blackout, you were left wondering if this was more GCSE drama than potential Olivier award winning Shakespeare. 

I can't take away from the fact that this is a show that sold out in record time for the west end, and that some people will walk away from the theatre having loved every moment, it just fell flat for me. And without the wonderful performances of Freema and Francesca, I wonder if I would have truly enjoyed it at all. 

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