When British Vogue cast Tom Holland in its 2021 Hollywood Portfolio, the less fashion-forward half of Tomdaya—then fresh off a turn in the Russo brothers’ Cherry—was asked about the best piece of advice he’d ever received. “It’s a trick that my first ever director, Nick Evans, taught me, which is basically to turn your nerves into excitement. Throughout my career, whenever I’ve been nervous for something, I just kind of trick myself into thinking that I’m really excited, and it means that I enjoy everything so much more.”
When he dispensed that particular pearl of wisdom, Evans was working with the future Peter Parker on the Victoria Palace Theatre’s run of Billy Elliot, with Holland playing Billy’s friend Michael before stepping into the lead role at the tender age of 12. Now, post-detour into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Holland’s trading his spidey senses for the sweet sorrow of Romeo & Juliet, treading the boards of the West End once more from May 11 in Jamie Lloyd’s adaptation of the tragedy of Verona.
This being Lloyd—whose Nicole Scherzinger-fronted reimagining of Sunset Boulevard turned the noir dial up to Vantablack—it’s safe to assume that “the two hour’s traffic of [his] stage” at the Duke of York’s Theatre will be less concerned with underscoring the plot’s “with love’s light wings did I o’erperch these walls” sentimentality and more with the “worms’ meat” aspects of Shakespeare’s most popular play. (Tellingly, it’s Friar Laurence’s line, “violent delights have violent ends,” that’s been chosen as the tagline.) With apologies to those hoping to see Holland in breeches, it seems highly unlikely that this will be a traditional Elizabethan staging, either; expect something closer to Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 film than John Gielgud’s ’30s production at the New Theatre.
The premiere will mark Holland’s first appearance in a Shakespearean role, meaning he’ll doubtless be putting Evans’s pointer into practice in the run-up to opening night. The 27-year-old is, in fact, one of a host of Hollywood leads due to front theatrical productions in London this spring, from Sarah Snook playing all 26 characters in The Picture of Dorian Grey to Cara Delevingne making her West End debut as Sally Bowles. Film and prestige TV are all well and good, after all, but as a thespian, can you think of anything more exciting than live performance? “I defy you, stars!”