If you asked the general public on their opinion of Shakespeare, you’d probably get a response that includes the words “boring”, “confusing” and “old”. If you then showed them this production of Two Gentlemen of Verona (set in the 1960s) by Shakespeare’s Globe they would be saying very different things.
Despite being someone who has studied Shakespeare a lot, I must admit I had very little knowledge of this particular play before watching this production. My general rule of thumb is this; if you don’t know a play before you enter the theatre and you leave the theatre knowing exactly what happened then it’s a very good production, particularly when it comes to Shakespeare. I went to see this touring show (which runs until 29th October) at Exeter Northcott Theatre. The largest theatre in Exeter is a common host for large touring shows, and it’s very rare to see a poor production there, so I had high hopes. Before I knew it, I found myself captured by the story and laughing at jokes dating back to the 1500s.
A brief overview
For those who don’t know the play, and what to know the basics, here is a little overview for you. Valentine and Proteus are best friends, and Proteus is in love with Julia. Valentine travels to Milan where he meets Silvia, and is soon followed by his pal Proteus (who has essentially committed himself to Julia). Before you know it, fickle Proteus has fallen for Silvia – pronouncing his love for Julia dead. Valentine and Silvia plan on eloping, but their plan is ruined when Proteus betrays his best friend. Valentine is banished, Silvia hates Proteus, and Julia disguises herself. What follows is a hilarious series of events that will make you roll your eyes and laugh out loud.
With the exception of musicals, a lot of shows only show off one talent per show. This production makes full use of all the casts’ talent, which is far ranging and impressive. Amber James moves seamlessly from multiple characters, to singing, to playing the drums. Fred Thomas, the constant on stage musician, gets involved with scenes whilst providing a solid framework for all musical elements of the show.
Beyond the music, there is terrific acting from all performers. Garry Cooper (Duke) has a swagger that rivals Mick Jagger, Charlotte Mills (Launce) involves the audience, and Dharmesh Patel (Valentine) has perfect comic timing with little glances and expressions that bring the jokes to life.
Modern-day Shakespeare can be tacky, and traditional Shakespeare can be tiring, but this production is slotted right in the middle. Two Gentlemen of Verona is a comedy, and it is a great one. There’s a feeling of authenticity with this production; original Shakespeare plays were created for the masses, and audience members standing in the yard would have jeered, shouted, and gotten involved and it it the same for this production. It is a truly lively show!
Having had no previous experience with this play, I wasn’t sure how much I would enjoy it. It turns out that I enjoyed it a lot. This was one of the best performances of Shakespeare I have seen. It showed off the writing, the comedy, and displayed how Shakespeare’s work is still relevant and relatable 600 years later.