A reviews round-up for Rebecca Frecknall‘s new production of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet at the Almeida Theatre.
This productions follows Frecknall’s acclaimed revival of Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire at the Almeida.
The cast includes Ted Lasso star Toheeb Jimoh as Romeo, and Isis Hainsworth (Red Rose, Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour, A Midsummer Night’s Dream) as Juliet, alongside Raphael Akuwudike as Balthazar, Jamie Ballard as Capulet, Miles Barrow as Benvolio, Amanda Bright as Lady Capulet, Luke Cinque-White as Servant/Gregory, James Cooney as Paris, Paul Higgins as Friar Lawrence, Jyuddah Jaymes as Tybalt, Kieron Jecchinis as Prince, Jo McInnes as Nurse, Daniel Phung as Apothecary/Sampson, Jack Riddiford as Mercutio, and Gideon Turner as Montague.
The production is designed by Chloe Lamford, with costume design by Debbie Duru, lighting design by Lee Curran, sound design by Gareth Fry, casting by Julia Horan CDG, and fight direction by Jonathan Holby.
Rebecca Frecknall’s other West End shows currently on stage include her multi-Olivier Award winning revival of Kander & Ebb’s Cabaret at the Kit Kat Club in London, now starring Maude Apatow and Mason Alexander Park.
Romeo and Juliet is playing to 29 July 2023 at the Almeida.
Check out reviews for Romeo and Juliet including The Stage and the Evening Standard, with further reviews to follow.
Romeo and Juliet reviews
"Rebecca Frecknall’s tragedy casts an exquisite magic spell"
"Five stars simply isn’t enough for the urgent, vibrant glory of this"
"Oops, she’s done it again. All-conquering director Rebecca Frecknall, the mastermind behind the West End’s current immersive production of Cabaret and the recent superlative respinning of A Streetcar Named Desire, continues her incredible winning streak of hits."
"A little way into the performance and the entire audience sat utterly transfixed, barely daring to breathe in case the exquisite magic spell that Frecknall’s pulsing production casts should be disturbed. I have never known a quality of silence like it – and all for a drama that a lot of theatre goers will have seen umpteen times already."
"And then there is the brilliance of the central pairing, played by Toheeb Jimoh (Ted Lasso’s Sam Obisanya) and Isis Hainsworth. We believe absolutely in their tender portrayal of teenage innocence, insecurity and infatuation; in a blistering and luminous performance Hainsworth rips the skin off Juliet to reveal the pounding heart beneath."
"Rebecca Frecknall's revival feels newly shocking"
"Visceral, balletic reimagining of Shakespeare’s tragedy is urgent and freshly shocking"
"This is a tragedy that pulses with life. All the jittery energy, the uncertainty, frustration, rage and wild excitement of teenage existence are here, in an envisioning of Shakespeare’s tale of doomed innocence that is as volatile as a hormonal adolescent mood swing. Yet from the first moments of Rebecca Frecknall’s two-hour, interval-free rush of a production, it’s ominously plain how brutally that vitality will be snuffed out."
"There’s a lot of dancing here, as Frecknall galvanises the familiar plot mechanics with her hallmark ingenuity, intercutting and overlaying scenes with a filmic freneticism, and riffing on Prokofiev’s ballet score Romeo and Juliet."
"Jimoh’s Romeo has the assurance of a young man confident of his attractiveness, in restless search of an outlet for his passions. Hainsworth’s Juliet combines dreaminess with sarky wit and screaming, tantrum-tinged rage. Together, they are authentically heedless, gawky, gorgeous and sweet, and their intoxication with each other feels, both emotionally and sexually, intense and true."
"For seldom was a staging better yet than this of Romeo and his Juliet"
"Dark, inventive, mercifully un-modish and yet beautifully fresh, Rebecca Frecknell's new production of Shakespeare's tragedy is unmissable"
"As in Streetcar, the vision is to strip the production back to its emotional essence, and allow the poetic language and tragic characterisation to speak for itself on a spotlit, bare stage. It is through this refreshing means – not through a clumsy imposition of a new interpretation or setting – that Frecknell confidently assures riddling Shakespearan lines are made accessible for a wide audience."
"Romeo (Toheeb Jimoh) and Juliet (Isis Hainsworth) are superbly cast, projecting indefatigable sweetness against a backdrop of urban decay. While Jimoh feels more consistent, brightly smiling and introspectively spinning his lover’s metaphors, Hainsworth undergoes a more seismic transformation, shifting from giggling school irl to feminist powerhouse."
"A novel, pulsating energy drives this production to its conclusion, but in a way that never feels reckless with the source material. It is a masterclass in how to tell Shakespeare in an orthodox way while still feeling fresh, and an unmissable show this summer."
"Relentless retelling makes us see this familiar story with fresh eyes"
"Ted Lasso’s Toheeb Jimoh as Romeo and Isis Hainsworth as Juliet suggest the characters share a fascination that goes beyond carnal passion"
"Performed in two hours without an interval, Rebecca Frecknall’s hectic, stripped-down production makes sense of the recklessness with which young people fight and fall in love in Shakespeare’s play."
"There’s a kind of derangement to the Verona on display here, and a thundering inevitability to the final tragedy. True, the relentless pace means some scenes are rushed through at a gabble. This show doesn’t have the singular vision and flair of Frecknall’s most recent hits, Cabaret at the Kit Kat Club and A Streetcar Named Desire – but that’s an impossibly high bar she’s set herself."
"There are moments of quiet, when the madness is suspended. Juliet, stirring to find the fugitive Romeo creeping into his clothes, utters an arch: “Wilt though be gone?” At the end, she cradles his corpse and tenderly touches his hand. The show’s very last image is one of great simplicity and power. Other aesthetic decisions are more regrettable, such as the bursts of music from Prokofiev’s ballet, accompanied by fighty dance moves."
"Rebecca Frecknall’s dance to the death"
"This innovative, fast-paced production of Shakespeare’s tragedy, starring Toheeb Jimoh and Isis Hainsworth, has a beguiling intensity"
"Rebecca Frecknall is fast becoming the director with a consummate gift for turning old into new... This is not as radical a reconceptualisation but has its own stylistic inventions and brings a beguiling intensity in its faithfulness."
"... Frecknall’s choreography has its own premonitory logic, with actors from one scene falling to the floor and remaining prone while the next scene commences, as if foreshadowing the suicide and slaughter to come."
"Jimoh aims for breezy naturalism and speeds through some lines too quickly, but there is a sweet, innocent dynamic between him and Hainsworth. For her part, she gives Juliet a convincing teen rashness, shouting her lines like an angry child at times."
"Star-crossed lovers shine in a vague setting"
"... while it has bright ideas aplenty, this condensed reinvention from the director Rebecca Frecknall is less convincing than the shows that have put her on such a hot streak lately"
"The shining star of the evening is Toheeb Jimoh, aka Sam Obisanya in Ted Lasso. In silk shirt and with casual manner he brings something captivatingly conversational and excitingly quick-witted to his Romeo. One or two of the performers sound a bit constipated; Jimoh, by contrast, makes the metre his own, makes poetic pronouncements sound off the cuff and intimate exchanges look easy but heartfelt. He is a stage actor of massive potential."
"... while we all like a concise running time in theory, there is a price. I’ve never seen a Verona as vaguely drawn as this one. The costumes are old and modern; the sense of geography is non-existent. Add to that Frecknall’s cuts and newly added juxtapositions, and the sense of place merges into pure theatrical abstraction. The quiet intensity of Frecknall’s show sometimes slides into a kind of amber-lit earnestness."
"Danger stalks the radiant lovers in Rebecca Frecknall’s tumultuous, twilit Romeo and Juliet"
"Rebecca Frecknall has again gone to the heart of the matter. The director, who recently stripped back Tennessee Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire, has now staged Shakespeare’s most famous love story as an unsparing tragedy. No healing at the end; vibrancy throughout. Two beacons at the centre."
"As Romeo and Juliet, Toheeb Jimoh and Isis Hainsworth are radiant and desperate. Out of control, not always lucid, compulsively drawn together. They are the magnetic centre but they are not the whole story. This is an evening of speed and secrets in the half light."
"Sergei Prokofiev’s music for the ballet, threaded (sometimes too emphatically) through the action, conjures up nightmare; characters dance to it, crouched over like beasts, and sink to the floor as if pulled by the scruffs of their necks."
"There are flaws. Some of Miles Barrow’s speech as Benvolio vanishes in gabble. There is too much yelling. Hainsworth is guilty of this..."
"Rebecca Frecknall’s kinetic, romantic take on Shakespeare’s tragedy has terrific performances from Toheeb Jimoh and Isis Hainsworth"
"The Almeida’s in-house directing wunderkind Rebecca Frecknall tackles the Bard for the first time with a galloping production of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ that doesn’t try and do anything too iconoclastic with the romantic tragedy, but nonetheless makes it feel fresh and thrilling."
"Frecknall’s most fun innovation is to mash up Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ with Prokofiev’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’. Okay, it’s mostly Shakespeare, but there’s something powerfully atmospheric and delightfully basic about the sequences where the immortal string-and-horn interplay of ‘Montagues and Capulets’ kicks in and the youthful cast burst into taut, kinetic dance sequences."
"At heart, though, it’s just a darn good ‘Romeo and Juliet’ that hinges on two fine lead performances."
"Frecknall’s hallmark as a director is intense empathy with her characters, an approach that goes down a treat with ‘Romeo and Juliet’, which is essentially a story about good people fucking up cataclysmically."
"It’s rare to come across a production of Romeo and Juliet that stays true to Shakespeare’s promise of “two hours’ traffic” but tonight at the Almeida, director Rebecca Frecknall complies. A tight runtime comes at a price, however, and in this case that means a hefty edit and no loo break. Still, Frecknall’s play gains a lot from those cuts and the result is a visceral, charged production that is also accessible."
"As the eponymous lovers, Toheeb Jimoh (sweet and smiley Sam Obisanya in Ted Lasso) and Isis Hainsworth are well-matched."
"Speaking of deaths, there may be fewer in Frecknall’s production, but those that do make it to the stage are potent – played out in real time with a good measure of realistic arghs and urghs from the actors. The play is more than comfortable revelling in its violence."
"Frecknall’s production is impressive overall, propelled along by a fast-paced energy and an individual perspective."
"‘Ted Lasso’ Star Toheeb Jimoh Is the Expressive Heart of Rebecca Frecknall’s Passionate Production"
"Having the audacity to harness stabs and slashes of Prokofiev’s celebrated ballet score for “Romeo and Juliet” for a production of Shakespeare’s play suggests remarkable confidence on the part of white-hot director Rebecca Frecknall. It’s not misplaced. Her startlingly visceral production, with a cast led by Toheeb Jimoh of “Ted Lasso,” is not only lit up by the power of bodies leaping in space and dramatically alert even when in repose; it’s also alive to the detailed drama of Shakespeare’s language. The intensity she engenders in her actors is sometimes ramped-up too highly and everything boils over, but at its finest, the fiercely articulate passion is electrifying."
"Frecknall’s staging, driven by dance, seethes with the restless energy of youth. It’s the friction between vitality and the ever-present threat of death that makes the tragedy leap out afresh here."
"It’s a play that is besotted with duality: life and death, love and enmity, night and day, sweet sorrow. Frecknall emphasises this — many scenes overlap or are intercut — together with the raw youth and essential loneliness of the two protagonists. Isis Hainsworth’s Juliet has a lovely, open quality and a winning combination of shyness and eagerness. Toheeb Jimoh’s Romeo, in return, is beautiful: impulsive, graceful, vulnerable."