Romeo and Julie Reviews ★★★★

Reviews are coming in for new play Romeo and Julie at the National Theatre.

This new play by Gary Owen, directed by Rachel O’Riordan, is a modern love story inspired by Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, set in Cardiff’s Tremorfa and Splott communities – against the backdrop of inequality of opportunity faced by many of today’s young people.

The cast includes Callum Scott Howells (It’s A Sin, Cabaret) as Romy, and Rosie Sheehy (Bird – Sherman Theatre, All’s Well That Ends Well  – RSC) as Julie.

Other cast include Catrin Aaron (The Lovely Bones – Birmingham Rep, Missing Julie – Theatr Clwyd), Paul Brennen (A Discovery of Witches – Sky, Happy Valley – BBC) and  Anita Reynolds (The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe – Sherman Theatre, A Monster Calls – The Old Vic / Bristol Old Vic). 

Owen and O’Riordan scored a huge success last year with their production of Iphigenia in Splott at the Lyric Hammersmith, which was first performed at Sherman Theatre in 2015.

Romeo and Julie runs at the National Theatre in London until 1 April 2023, and then the Sherman Theatre from 13 to 29 April 2023.

More about Romeo and Julie tickets at the National Theatre in London

Average Critics Rating

Romeo and Julie reviews

The Stage

"Faultlessly performed tale of rage and hope"

"Sweet and savage working-class love story scintillatingly writes its own rules"

"Gary Owen’s writing has a sweetness and savagery that knocks you sideways."

"The play’s relationship to Romeo and Juliet is very tangential, but if this isn’t Shakespeare, it’s packed with its own poetry, gorgeous as a shimmer of iridescent oil in dirty gutter water. And O’Riordan’s production – lean, unsparing, fizzing with feeling – hits us dead-on in the heart."

"O’Riordan directs briskly but with immense compassion, and the acting is faultless: Sheehy’s hungry, tough-talking Julie, as clever as she is naive, and Howells’ shambling but sensitive Romey are devastatingly poignant; so, too, are Aaron’s Barb – a destructive, desolately funny, raddled survivor – and Brennen and Reynolds, their parenting snarled up in their terror of yet more cruel disappointment."

Sam Marlowe, The Stage
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The Evening Standard

"An enthralling love story that asks big questions"

"It’s a Sin’s Callum Scott Howells is intensely watchable in a performance that gives off a low-key Paul Mescal vibe"

"In Gary Owen’s sparky, working-class Welsh riff on Shakespeare’s play, the lovers are challenged by the realities of early parenting, rather than by warring parents."

"Owen’s tart wit is well served by Rachel O’Riordan’s brisk and economical production. And by the zesty performances of Rosie Sheehy and It’s a Sin star Callum Scott Howells, who have great chemistry in the lead roles."

"Sheehy is delightful, a smart, sharp, scathing dynamo. “You’re a funny girl: lots of people don’t like that,” observes Barb (Catrin Aaron), who’s very dry for an alcoholic. Howells has a low-key Paul Mescal vibe, offset by an exaggerated slouch and De Niro-ish head-wags and grimaces: his performance is strange and mannered but intensely watchable."

"... this remains an enthralling love story that links the big questions of physics, biology and chemistry to a very basic issue: what happens when human life and adulthood arrive too soon."

Nick Curtis, The Evening Standard
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i News

"Callum Scott Howells is magnificent as a skint Cardiff single dad"

"Playwright Gary Owen and director Rachel O’Riordan have produced another riveting collaboration with this tender Welsh spin on the teenage love story"

"Scott Howells and Sheehy are magnificent and perfectly matched, taking us with them absolutely as their unlikely romance makes an unexpected swerve to the serious."

"Owen’s honest and earthy script continues to zing and there is a particularly strong sub-strand concerning the conflict Julie feels about the chance to transcend her working-class origins."

Fiona Mountford, i News
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The Times

"The lovers get a witty, gritty, working-class update"

"As it turns out, this witty, gritty yet generous rom-com by Gary Owen (Iphigenia in Splott) emits a sweet sorrow that is all its own."

"As Romy, Callum Scott Howells (Colin from It’s a Sin) embodies a kind of rough-hewn yet playful masculinity that is the gatekeeper of his secret sensitivity. It’s an entertaining, unsentimental, smartly judged performance."

"... what’s remarkable about Owen’s play is how it is open-eyed about selfishness and deprivation and frustration and foolishness yet also fundamentally positive about people."

"It’s quite an achievement, this, to blend rom-com froth and kitchen-sink harshness without turning either sour or saccharine in the process. Owen’s dialogue is acute, funny, knowing but empathetic."

"Most important, though, the director Rachel O’Riordan, Owen’s frequent collaborator, gets the most lucid, elegantly outsized performances from a fine cast."

Dominic Maxwell, The Times
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"Gary Owen’s Welsh working-class response to ‘Romeo & Juliet’ is thoughtful but muted"

"Gary Owen’s down-to-earth ‘Romeo and Julie’ wears its source matter very, very lightly, to the point where it's only after you leave the theatre that you trace the connections between Shakespeare’s tragic couple and this pair of teenagers, struggling with the responsibilities of young parenthood in a working-class Welsh community."

"This is closely naturalistic, witty, skilled writing, shot through with subtle tensions and resentments, and given life by Rachel O’Riordan's full-blooded production. But where Owen's breakout, rave-reviewed monologue ‘Iphigenia in Splott’ was unapologetically heartbreaking, this play feels more cautious."

"Still, the spark between Howells and Sheehy is just strong enough to bring a little fire to this story - and to introduce a welcome note of hope into its muted ending."

Alice Saville, TimeOut
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The Guardian

"A sweet spin on Shakespeare"

"Gary Owen’s tale of star-crossed, working-class lovers in modern Cardiff offers existential questions and awkward encounters"

"Spun as a romcom cum kitchen sink drama, there is plenty of cuteness and comic banter, along with Gavin and Stacey-style awkward encounters with each other’s parents."

"There are some keen scenes, such as a fierce speech by Julie’s mother on the value of underpaid care work. These bring wonderful flashes of intensity but are not quite sustained or penetrating enough to capture us completely. What does is the chemistry between Howells, as the lovable, oafish and eminently good dad, and the always excellent Sheehy who brings great force of spirit to Julie."

"Working-class lives are centred here and this play’s achievement is in making their world visible, and entirely believable."

Arifa Akbar, The Guardian
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The Telegraph

"A casual but gut-punching reworking of Shakespeare’s star-cross’d romance"

"Swapping Verona for a bedsit with a pram, Welsh playwright Gary Owen continues to cleverly reframe working-class stories as epic texts"

"... he’s [Owen's] at it again with this equally casual yet gut-punching reconfiguring of Shakespeare’s star-cross’d romance, swapping fair Verona for a cramped bedsit with a pram."

"The result is a ferociously funny and ultimately hopeful twist on familiar territory – no Edward Bond Saved-style nightmares here, or Shakespearean tragedy come to that – and if it relies on a degree of romcom-style sweetness in order to be so, it’s none the less satisfying for it."

"Owen puts a bit too much weight bearing stress on certain plot points... Yet Owen displays such deep love for his characters, bestowing them with such earthy charisma and iridescent wit, it’s hard not to fall for them too"

Claire Allfree, The Telegraph
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The Observer

"Star-crossed Cardiff teenagers snare hearts and minds"

"It is unusual to sit in the stalls hanging on a plot twist. Yet Romeo and Julie, Gary Owen’s riff on Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers, skewers an audience’s anxieties."

"This could so easily have been programmatic: a right-minded, much-needed but doctrinaire screed about the howling inequities of the education system. Yet Rachel O’Riordan’s production drums with urgency."

"Wales is becoming a place for the stage to consider fractures and injustices in the Un-United Kingdom."

Susannah Clapp, The Observer
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The Financial Times

"A radical, funny modern tragedy at the National Theatre"

"Owen sets the story of two teenage lovers in contemporary Cardiff, but this is a new play rather than an update: a radical, funny and moving rethink not only of the plot but of what tragedy means in a modern context. It’s not as incandescent as Owen’s earlier Iphigenia in Splott but it is still, beneath its bubbling, witty surface, fuelled by rage at inequality."

"There are a few sticky moments: Julie’s stepmother Kath’s speech about her job as a carer, although true and well founded, feels a little stitched on dramatically, while the neon overhead lighting can be distracting. But this is a poignant, defiantly hopeful play that wrestles with what this familiar story might mean in today’s terms."

Sarah Hemming, The Financial Times
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📷 Main photo: Romeo and Julie at the National Theatre. Photo by Marc Brenner

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