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Tom Holland wows crowds more than critics in Romeo and Juliet

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Ian Youngs,Entertainment & arts reporter

Marc Brenner Tom Holland and Francesca Amewudah-Rivers in Romeo & Juliet in Romeo & JulietMarc Brenner

Tom Holland plays Romeo, with Francesca Amewudah-Rivers as Juliet

The “unprecedented” excitement among fans outside the London theatre where Spider-Man star Tom Holland is appearing in Romeo and Juliet hasn’t quite been matched by the response from the critics inside.

The most glowing review – a five-star write-up in the Telegraph – said Holland “ravishes” and “mesmerises” as Romeo.

But at the other end of the scale, the Daily Express’s one-star critique called it “absolute drivel” and described Holland as “a charisma free zone”.

Time Out said the actor “certainly doesn’t disgrace himself”, while the Guardian said it was “a good performance”.

Other critics also struggled to get exercised, describing Holland’s Romeo as “fine”, “perfectly OK” and “perfectly plausible”.

They were, on the whole, more enthusiastic about Francesca Amewudah-Rivers as Juliet, who was described by Time Out’s Andrzej Lukowski as “great”.

“She has a lightness that contrasts with Holland’s dour angst,” he wrote.

Time Out gave the play four stars, saying director Jamie Lloyd’s minimalist production is “brilliantly unsettling” and is “staged like a particularly stylish radio play”.

Getty Images  Tom Holland seen leaving Duke of York's Theatre following his second Romeo & Juliet performance on May 14, 2024 in LondonGetty Images

Fans have been waiting for Holland outside the theatre every night

The Times was less enamoured with what it said felt like “a conscientious but colourless radio drama”.

Awarding three stars, critic Clive Davis said Holland was “quiet, fresh-faced and sensitive”.

“In the opening scenes he really does convince you that he is an adolescent adrift, waiting to abandon himself to a doomed romance,” he wrote.

But in the end, Lloyd’s production “at times felt too formulaic” and left the audience “more perplexed than gripped”, he said.

The Guardian’s Arifa Akbar also gave three stars and said the two lead stars are “perfectly cast, wired with an awkwardly cool teen energy, she a mix of innocence and streetwise steel, he jittering with sweaty-palmed earnestness”.

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

There is “much to admire” – but she concluded that “the deliberate underplaying of emotion ultimately leeches the play of its tragedy”.

Marc Brenner Romeo and JulietMarc Brenner

Holland is famous for playing Spider-Man in the Marvel films

Variety’s David Benedict was not very keen on a production he described as “fiercely stripped-down”, in which “the exuberance of love and youth is entirely missing”.

The drama and most characters are hobbled by a slow pace with pauses that break the rhythm and meaning of the script, Benedict said. “The exception to all this is Juliet…

“But Holland lacks her still stage presence. He’s perfectly plausible as lovestruck Romeo growing increasingly stressed and distressed, but he emotes rather than elicits emotions.”

Elsewhere, the Independent’s Tim Bano went further and said Holland’s performance “falls flat”.

“On comes Holland, a camera following him from backstage. He’s tearful, morose, muttering. He’s a very sad boy in a tight white vest,” Bano wrote.

Footage shot by on-stage cameras, shown on a big screen, has become a hallmark Lloyd’s productions, as has what Bano described as “industrial chic”.

“Or it was chic the first time Lloyd did it, but now it just looks like a fetish for ventilation ducts.”

He added: “If it had ended at the interval, it would have been brilliant. Instead, it becomes a thing of diminishing returns…

“As for the ending, well, it’s a bit of a letdown. They die, but theatrically: earpieces out, eyes closed, sitting on the front of the stage like bouncers having a nap after a long shift at a warehouse rave.”

Marc Brenner Romeo and JulietMarc Brenner

The performance has pared-down staging

BBC Culture’s Hugh Montgomery said the show has “the status of a global event”.

He noted the “unprecedented scenes outside the Duke of York’s Theatre, where hundreds of fans teem behind railings, waiting for a glimpse of Holland as he travels from stage door to his car, waving like royalty”.

“If only the show itself was able to match this energy,” he continued, giving two stars.

“Unfortunately, though, it’s a depressingly lifeless affair, which somehow manages to be both overstated and underpowered.

“This, it should be emphasised, is in no way the fault of the actors – neither Holland, who is fine, nor Francesca Amewudah-Rivers, playing Juliet, who is better than fine, nor the supporting cast.

“The problem lies firmly with the gimmicky, oppressively dour staging, which consistently works against all of them.”

Marc Brenner Romeo and JulietMarc Brenner

Film cameras are used as part of the play

Deadline’s Baz Bamigboye also described the “memorable” crowds outside to catch a glimpse of Holland and girlfriend Zendaya.

He was lukewarm about the production, and the British actor, who he said was “a perfectly OK Jack-the-lad Romeo”. But a friend’s 13-year-old daughter “adored all of it”.

“The thing is, this is the kind of production that will bring in a young audience. A new audience,” he concluded.

“They don’t want to sit through stuffy, traditional productions of the Bard. Theatre needs young audiences to be excited now so they keep going back.

“They want the shiny, bright rawness that Lloyd offers.”

The star power in the London production will be rivalled by another new version on Broadway pairing Heartstopper’s Kit Connor with West Side Story’s Rachel Zegler, which will open in September.

The New York show – with music by Taylor Swift’s producer Jack Antonoff – released its trailer on Thursday.

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