ComedyReviewShakespeareShakespeare 400South West

Two Gentlemen of Verona – The Lost Gardens of Heligan, Saint Austell

Writer: William Shakespeare
Director: Nick Bagnall
Reviewer: Marina Spark

Shakespeare’s Globe and the Liverpool Everyman &Playhouse present Shakespeare’s Two Gentlemen of Verona at Kneehigh’s Asylum tent this summer. The Asylum tent sits in an idyllic, isolated corner of Cornwall nestled in the grounds of the Lost Gardens of Heligan. This alternative theatre space houses the sparsely filled stage with ease and creates a playful arena in which the performers can storytell. Designer Katie Sykes’ set is dominated by a retro, vibrant music box; the platform from which the talented actor-musicians fill the atmosphere and bring life to the Shakespearean comedy.

Shakespeare’s tale of love, miscommunication and betrayal is told with high octane energy by the diverse cast. Innocence and experience juxtapose in the plot, heightening the stakes and creating fascinating tension. The four lovers are all strong performers and each commands the stage in their own right. The strongest partnership is between Guy Hughes (Valentine) and Dharmesh Patel (Proteus). The characters’ love for each other is all that can be truly salvaged at the close of the play and the pair develop this relationship gradually and to good effect. Julia, played by Leah Brotherhead, and Sylvia, played by Aruhan Galieva, are both wronged by the fickle and untrustworthy Proteus. Both female performers have similar energies and presences, which highlights the lack of identity and control that their characters command by the end of the tale.

The performer with the most work to do is Amber James. James plays an array of male and female roles, each with its own distinct and recognisable characterisation. A highlight of the show is the fight/dance-off between James’ character Tranio and Valentine. Hughes plays Valentine with impeccable comic timing which works well opposed to James’ focused, driven, humourless character, Tranio.

The multi-talented performers delight the audience with their musical and vocal skills during energetic musical interludes. This is an innovative approach to scene changes and makes a welcome change to lengthy intervals of furniture being moved. Composer James Fortune introduces a number of well-placed pieces adding to the individuality of this particular production. The sound levels and occasionally the vocals can be hit or miss with the audience struggling to hear lyrics. The clever lighting design by Paul Russell takes the semi-outdoor space easily from daytime to night with the audience being unaware of the transition.

Nick Bagnall’s direction makes for a vibrant, fluid production. He facilitates the use of a multi-level theatre space expertly and has developed a paced, riotous production. He has managed to bring a modern, if not contemporary, feel to a well-known classic and with that he commands the attention of a full house.

Sure to delight Shakespeare fans, this re-telling of one of the bard’s earlier comedies is worth stepping out to see.

Runs until 28 August 2016, then touring | Image: Gary Calton

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