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Review – The Two Gentlemen Of Verona At The Everyman

SINCE it came to life in the Everyman’s rehearsal rooms back in April, this co-production with Shakespeare’s Globe has been on a marathon tour, visiting venues across the UK and Europe before finally coming home for a 4 week run in Liverpool.

During the first day of read-throughs in April, director Nick Bagnall outlined his motives in setting this late 16th century comedy in 1966. It’s a story of young people breaking free from the tedium of their drab homelife and setting off to find excitement, adventure and love, and for Nick this immediately resonated with the youth culture and music of the 1960s. His Verona is all beige cardigans and Jim Reeves, while Milan is a very different world of long hair and flower power.

Valentine heads off to Milan while his friend Proteus remains in Verona to be with his beloved Julia, but then Proteus’s father sends him off to Milan after all. There Valentine has fallen for Sylvia, daughter of the Duke, but she is already promised by her father to Thurio. When Proteus sees a picture of Sylvia he immediately forgets his love for Julia and we’re on target for a four way tug of love, with all the deceptions and intrigues that Shakespeare goes on to use again in many of his later plays.

The period setting provides opportunities for a lot of music and, as the various love notes and messages are passed about on 7 inch vinyl, the characters break into song to deliver them. The entire cast play multiple instruments, with Guy Hughes as Valentine showing a prowess on the guitar that enables him to join the outlaws’ band in the forest.

There is much doubling of roles, with Amber James who plays Lucetta and Panthino also drawing on a moustache to bring us the self-important Thurio. Launce, servant to Proteus, is a great comic turn from Charlotte Mills, who engages wonderfully with the audience, while T J Holmes’s Speed justifies his name with a little bag of mysterious pills. When you’re touring so widely it’s not practical to have a dog in the cast, so Launce uses an ingenious device, guaranteed to raise a laugh, to bring us his dog, Crab.

The distinctively ’60s set acts like a climbing frame that the cast use every inch of, clambering up and down ladders, and Garry Cooper’s Duke revels in viewing proceedings from on high in a hugely physical performance full of exaggerated gestures.

Nick Bagnall loves the play but has never believed the problematic final scene. His solution gives us a happily ever after that isn’t shared by everyone and it really does work. His use of a song made famous by Janis Joplin brings an inspired twist and a weighty message to the ending. It’s a hugely funny production full of great performances, and by all accounts the ensemble has tightened up tremendously during the tour to give us the pacey show delivered here.

Recalling James Brown’s 1966 lyric, the play is set very much in a man’s world. It’s not intentional scheduling but it’s interesting to note nonetheless that there are many striking parallels with the patriarchal society of Sheridan’s Rivals that I reviewed last week at the Playhouse.

The Two Gentlemen of Verona plays at the Everyman until Saturday 29th October.

Review by Nigel Smith


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