Writer: William Shakespeare
Director: Nick Bagnall
Reviewer: John Roberts
Let’s get the obvious out of the way… The Two Gentlemen of Verona isn’t Shakespeare’s finest play; it lacks the finesse in both structure and wit shown in his later works and it’s easy to see why scholars have argued that this is potentially the first work of a very young playwright who still had a long way to go in producing some of the more powerful pieces in his canon.
That said, Nick Bagnall’s production is full of energy and vibrancy and is by all accounts an enjoyable romp – even if his vision for the piece occasionally starts to tangle itself up a little. Setting the piece according to the programme notes very precisely in 1966 – a year historians believe the world started to open up to teenagers, then the setting starts to feel more relevant to the play than it first appears.
Designer Katie Sykes’ multi-levelled mod-styled box set, gives plenty of playing space for the cast to perform and, while the set doesn’t help differentiate location very well, it certainly helps to keep the frantic pace of the production going – one also presumes it was to help with the large amount of touring the show has done around Europe. Her costume designs are certainly a show highlight, full of vivid floral patterns and muted palettes the piece is a delight to look at.
At the heart of Bagnall’s production lies music; love letters are written and played out on 33⅓ RPM vinyl, the cast all play a multitude of instruments and sing some of Shakespeare’s verse rather than deliver them in the usual way – and some of these moments are a delight especially given that they have been composed by James Fortune especially for the production. However, at times it feels like this element is a little superfluous and designed to fill a slightly shorter play with a clever bit of padding.
Playing the roles of the two friends who set out to leave Verona, Guy Hughes (Valentine) and Dharmesh Patel (Proteus) give strong and colourful portrayals as they struggle with love and life, but here the strongest performances are given by the female members of the cast Amber James impresses in a multitude of roles including Lucetta/Panthino and Thurio and vocally impresses with many songs throughout. Charlotte Mills wrings the laughs out as the comedic Launce especially when played alongside her dog – played with deadpan seriousness by musician Fred Thomas, but it is the nuanced and finely pitched performance by Leah Brotherhead as the love lost Julia which really captivates.
There is plenty to enjoy in this production of The Two Gentleman of Verona. All the trademarks of a classic Shakespeare play are here; wordplay, mistaken identity, fighting and more and is well worth a visit if you have never seen this particular Shakespeare before.
Runs until 29 October 2016 | Image: Gary Calton