The Two Gentlemen of Verona

Tue 15th – Sat 19th October 2013

reviews

Tina Lewis

at 07:52 on 16th Oct 2013

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The director Charlie Risius creates a topsy-turvy performance of Shakepeare’s comedy, successfully emphasising its chaos, confusion and disorder.

Risius created a novel opening to the production by starting with the arrival of the actors and actresses on stage, dressed in black, without any definite identity. It was when one of them emptied a bag of clothes on stage that the identity making took place with a few unexpected surprises: the men chose the Elizabethan period dresses while the women picked up the male clothing: gender roles were reversed throughout the performance. Charlotte Quinney (Valentine) and Laura Hutchinson (The Duke/Pantino) were particularly impressive in their transformation into men. Will Peck (Julia), Sam Curry (Silvia) and Freddy Sawyer (Lucetta, Eglamour/ Hostess) were amazing at playing the women, using a shrill voice as well as affected manners that would make the audience burst out laughing throughout the performance. The gender disorder became quite interesting with the metamorphosis of Julia into Sebastian, played by Will Peck. This discrepancy created by the actor Will Peck being a man, playing the role of a female character Julia, herself trying to look like a man disguising herself, was both funny and significant as regards the ambiguous gender identity of Julia. The actors used stereotyped moves and tricks to build their identity as male or female. They combined a great sense of humour and self-mockery which created the ideal distance to the spectator to enable him/ her to question those gender roles in the play.

The setting was made up of two white sheets hanging from the ceiling with pockets on it containing some of the props used by the characters. The very practical setting emphasized the postdramatic atmosphere of the production; those sheets functioned as visible wings reminding the audience of their being at the theatre. This distancing effect was also created by the fact that the actors sometimes changed costumes on stage in front of the spectators, thus showing how they were assuming a new identity.

The forest was not represented with a particular change in the setting on stage but it was “performed” by the actors playing the outlaws. As in the suspension of social norms in the forests of As you like it and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the outlaws behaved outside moral and social norms, howling, drinking, dancing and hopping, giving the opportunity to the spectators to visualize a symbolic forest in the margin of the society of Verona. The production boldly broke down the boundaries between the performance space and audience space, as outlaws talk to Valentine and Speed while being hidden in the dark next to the seats of the spectators.

Towards the end of the performance, Sam Curry (Silvia) began to take off his dress, wiped away his make up and put on a black t-shirt, remaining on stage, and still playing Silvia. The other characters also shed their costumes and props to return to a neutral identity, a perfect ending to a production that gives the audience much to think about.

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Joseph Cooper

at 08:11 on 16th Oct 2013

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I went into the theatre with concern; I emerged smiling. It is a rare thing to see a production of Two Gentlemen. It is a much ill-treated play, undervalued by director and literary critic alike, and yet, is one I hold in high regard, however controversially. I was worried my faith was misplaced in this brave choice of play. This production proved that it certainly has the capacity to entertain.

The language was sensitively handled, but it was the ingenuity of Charlie Risius's direction that most impressed – elements worked in around Shakespeare's splendid script which hugely improved the comedy of the piece. The staging likewise was, at times, beautifully constructed and in its minimalism it did not distract from the production; the staging of the Outlaws first exchange with Valentine was worthy of particular mention. Likewise, the 'ladder scene' between Valentine and Duke was brilliantly performed on both parts.

The cast is strong, and does the words of Shakespeare justice. What most surprised was the power with which the production managed to create such romantic severity in a play that normally is seen to lack distinct character. I have never felt such sympathy for the bewailings of a man dressed as a Duke's daughter – to put emotion into such a farcical piece, and yet embrace the farce at the same time was very commendable. The use of lighting at such moments of emotional tension added to the minimalist, yet powerful, portrayal of these characters.

Although, having said that, it was the clowning of Launce and Crab – as ever in Two Gentlemen – which stole the show, and was marvellously performed by Laura Ayres. Launce has the best lines, the best moments, and the best unruly animal (whose acting, although minimalist, is worthy of high praise). Maria Pawlikowska's Speed likewise had a brave clownish energy, which happily contributed to the humour of the piece, without breaking it, as such over-acting often can. A pleasant, possibly accidental, touch, which made me chuckle nonetheless, was the casting of Launce and Turio to be played by the same actor; they are both foolish characters, after all.

The gender swap that hallmarks this performance gave the actors a tough task to perform, and yet they rose to it. Each part had both an entertaining mix of credibility in their new role and a humorous removal from it. The fact that the initial shock and amusement wore off for me soon into the play was not, as one may expect, a bad thing. Rather, it allowed a more moving performance to rise from the comedy, while still allowing the multitude of jokes to flourish. It also meant that the relationship between Valentine and Proteus, frequently condemned in Shakespeare's script, had a stereotypical, and entirely unrealistic 'bromance' about it – and I mean that in an undoubtedly positive way. To take Two Gentlemen seriously is folly indeed – the love is unreal, the characters dissimulate – if any play begs out for gender reversal, it is this one. At the very least, it added a breath of originality to a piece that is, confessedly, several hundred years old.

The, at first bewildering, then highly entertaining, opening was a fine touch to this two-tier performance, and allowed the difficult and farcical ending of Shakespeare's Two Gentlemen to hold an adequate sense of conclusion – higher praise perhaps than it sounds, given its complete immersion in irrelevance, as even I will admit.

More importantly, however, the play was fun. Possessing wit, much clowning, and a surprising amount of pathos, the fickle nature if love is displayed here in much of Shakespeare's comic potential. It has comedy for all tastes: crude and clever, verbal and visual. Perhaps what is most enjoyable – and one of the main reasons I like to see a good production of comic Shakespeare in particular – is that I get the impression, however falsely, that the actors are enjoying themselves as they play, lending a degree of comforting effortlessness to their performance. It certainly made me laugh. How else should one really judge a comedy?

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