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‘Romeo and Juliet’ Review: Plenty of Style, however Little Love

‘Romeo and Juliet’ Review: Plenty of Style, however Little Love


As the male lead entered the stage in a brand new manufacturing of “Romeo and Juliet” in London, a single, very loud whoop erupted from the orchestra degree. Nobody else joined in — that is Britain, in spite of everything — however the breach of decorum was telling. This explicit Romeo is the big-screen celebrity Tom Holland, of “Spider-Man” fame, and his pulling energy helped tickets for this present’s run promote out inside hours — though the actor enjoying Juliet wasn’t forged till many weeks later.

Yet this “Romeo and Juliet,” directed by Jamie Lloyd (“Sunset Boulevard,” “The Effect”) and operating on the Duke of York’s Theater via Aug. 3, is not any easy crowd-pleaser. The visuals are stripped-down and the staging unconventional; as an alternative of indulging the giddy melodrama of younger love, the emphasis is on brooding atmospherics. The present is slickly executed by a gifted forged and manufacturing crew, however its understated rendering of the lovers’ romantic infatuation might go away some theatergoers wanting extra.

The stage is darkish, and completely naked apart from an indication that asserts the setting in chunky capitals: VERONA. The performers, in monochrome streetwear, are illuminated by hazy spotlights. (Set design and costumes are by Soutra Gilmour.) In a number of scenes, they communicate from fastened positions, stationed behind microphone stands, typically going through the viewers relatively than one another. The gloomy visuals are complemented by snatches of ambient techno and a boring buzzing sound that conjures a way of anticipatory dread. To preserve the viewers on its toes, some scene adjustments are punctuated by blinding lights and obnoxiously loud flashbulb clacks. (The sound is by Ben and Max Ringham, the lighting by Jon Clark.)

The minimalist staging places an additional onus on the actors to make the script shine, and so they don’t disappoint. Holland provides a managed efficiency as Romeo, evoking the halting, hopeful awkwardness of a love-struck teenager with understatement. As Juliet, Francesca Amewudah-Rivers is equally restrained: Tentative and inscrutable through the early part of the courtship, she is at her greatest within the scenes wherein she stands as much as her father, Lord Capulet (Tomiwa Edun) as he pressures her to interrupt it off with Romeo. In these moments, Amewudah-Rivers — who’s making her West End debut — shows an impregnable abstractedness that rings true to the cussed willpower of adolescence.

The supporting forged can also be much less skilled than the illustrious main man, however for probably the most half, you wouldn’t realize it. Edun convinces because the hectoring, overbearing patriarch. Freema Agyeman performs the Nurse, the affable go-between who permits the lovers’ forbidden affair, with a wonderful mix of sassy assertiveness and quasi-maternal tenderness. Ray Sesay’s Tybalt is impressively menacing and Nima Taleghani, together with his wide-eyed and mild bearing, is tenderly protecting as Romeo’s trusty good friend, Benvolio.

At instances the spectacle feels extra like a studying than a play, however some nifty camerawork injects dynamism. A digital camera operator intermittently seems onstage and movies close-up footage of an actor’s face, which is relayed in actual time onto a display screen above the stage. This method — acquainted from the work of administrators resembling Ivo van Hove and Christine Jatahy — can typically really feel frustratingly gratuitous, resulting in a way of visible muddle, however it feels easy right here. During some scenes, actors are filmed elsewhere within the theater — in its lobby bar, corridors and balcony — whereas others occupy the stage. This provides a becoming sense of simultaneity in a story replete with back-channel dialogues and conspiratorial maneuverings.

Lloyd has tried to condense the story to its essence, simply as he did in his Olivier-winning tackle “Sunset Boulevard.” To this finish, one or two scenes — such because the finale wherein the Montagues and Capulets comply with put aside their variations after Romeo and Juliet’s deaths — have been abridged. The manufacturing’s clever subtlety is encapsulated within the tragic denouement, when the lovers’ deaths are conveyed just by Holland and Amewudah-Rivers eradicating their mics.

The restrained portrayal of the lovers’ ardour is aesthetically courageous, however there’s a draw back: In his willpower to eschew the straightforward charms of melodrama, Lloyd barely undercooks the romance, which in flip diminishes our funding in its horrible ramifications. There are different Shakespeare performs that lend themselves higher to this sort of high-concept therapy, as a result of they’re extra psychologically complicated. (A equally stylized “Macbeth,” staring David Tennant, which ran on the Donmar Warehouse final 12 months and can switch to the West End within the fall, involves thoughts.)

Leaving the theater, I encountered an excitable throng of principally younger followers hoping to catch a glimpse of Holland. His celebrity standing will entice a mainstream viewers to this present. But what’s going to they make of it? “Spider-Man” it most definitely ain’t.

Romeo and Juliet
Through Aug. 3 on the Duke of York’s Theater in London; thedukeofyorks.com.

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