Writer: William Shakespeare
Director: Bill Alexander
Reviewer: Kris Hallett
The Two Gentleman Of Verona, one of the rarer works in the Shakespeare canon, gives a fascinating exploration of the novice playwright yet to hit his stride. It’s a youthful work, full of the first fluctuations of desire and lust, of changing allegiance and friendships. It is a play structurally flawed and lacking in the great poetry of later works but does have plenty of vim and thrust along with character studies and ideas that would be developed greater in later years.
Former RSC legend Bill Alexander stages the first scenes with aplomb. We see Proteus (Bradley Branton) and Valentine (Chris Jenks) changing out of their school uniforms, tossing them into bin bags and chucking them over the walls for the last time. These boys are becoming men; Valentine is leaving to go on adventures to Milan (in this case university) Proteus is stay behind for love. It makes absolute sense of the premise, freshers is when many of us first begin to grow up, to see a world different to the one we grew up in, find our feet and identify in the person we will become. It also helps sympathise with the callousness of Proteus who is sent to follow Valentine and in meeting his friends love Silvia (Emily Williams) immediately forgets the girl back home, Georgia Frost’s Julia, and goes out to win her for himself. How many of us moved away thinking we were leaving someone special behind to fall into bed with someone else within weeks. It happens to the best of us.
Yet the early strokes of inspiration fall apart later and there is far less coherence as lovers escape into the forest, meet bandits, attempt to force themselves on another and eventually repent for the (sort of) happy ending. Alexander’s production can never gel these scenes together. A fault as much of play then of production, its disparate elements are enough to get any director tearing his hair out yet Alexander does not help himself here by inserting a tinkling jazz score that suggests a 1960s Paris with mahogany panels and scotch rather than a modern dress world with Ikea showroom flatpacks and shots of rum that we actually see. This dissonance never allows its audience to get its feet under the table.
In performance, there is plenty of strength. Branton and Jenks show two guys happier in their bromance than that of romantic love, while Williams and Frost play the exasperated women hoping their boys will soon grow up. Frost in particular has a real affinity for Shakespeare and proves herself a fine verse speaker. She’s one to watch out for. Billy Harris also has fun as a wannabe beau, decked out in his golfing mustard finest but not prepared to get his hands dirty for love while Laura Soper makes a strong impression as both a pushy parent and later a wannabe Che Guevera bandit.
It all makes for an entertaining enough night at the theatre even if it is Shakespeare still finding his feet. Love may not come easy here but for these four lovers there is still time enough to make up for their youthful follies.
Runs until 3 March 2017 | Image: Contributed