Nick Bagnall’s production of The Two Gentlemen Of Verona – a collaboration between the Everyman and Shakespeare’s Globe in London – takes a little performed Shakespeare play and gives it a Swinging Sixties setting. Live music, colourful costumes and exuberant dance routines combine to produce an energetic, entertaining show.
The story begins in stuffy Verona before moving on to hip Milan and then a strange and scary forest somewhere between the two. Proteus loves Julia and his best friend Valentine loves Silvia, but when Proteus meets Silvia he falls for her too. Silvia’s father the Duke of Milan wants her to marry the wealthy Thurio, so is none too pleased when Proteus caddishly tells him of Valentine’s love for his daughter and that the couple plan to elope. Valentine is banished by the Duke, and on the way back to Verona becomes involved with a band of hippy outlaws. Meanwhile Julia has decided to follow Proteus by disguising herself as a male servant.
Guy Hughes gives Valentine a nervy, upper class twit quality which generates a lot of laughs, while Dharmesh Patel conveys well Proteus’s harder edge. Aruhan Galieva as Silvia and Leah Brotherhead as Julia are also excellent, successfully convincing us that this is another of those Shakespeare plays in which the women are more decent and more sensible than the men. Of the other characters, Charlotte Mills’s Launce, played as a Shakespearean Johnny Vegas, is especially hilarious. Most of the cast double as singers and musicians, delighting the audience with music that ranges from easy listening to doowop and Sixties soul. Fred Thomas performs a memorable instrumental version of ‘Jerusalem’, reminiscent of Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Star Spangled Banner’.
The play itself would not normally make it onto an album of the Bard’s greatest hits. An early work (perhaps his very first play), it lacks the complexity and obvious genius of what came later. But it’s interesting to see Shakespeare exploring themes and ideas that would often be echoed in future works: love, friendship, women disguised as men, tyrannical fathers, hallucinatory woodland scenes. And as is usually the case with Shakespeare’s comedies, the play has darker elements which provide much food for thought.
There’s a controversial episode late in the play when Proteus attempts to force himself onto Silvia, only to be prevented by Valentine who comes to the rescue when he hears her cries. But he then forgives Proteus, and to show how much he values their friendship tells him he can have Silvia if he wishes (though the story doesn’t end there). Is Shakespeare, like many of his contemporaries, celebrating male friendship, or did he intend us to be – as George Eliot was – ‘disgusted’ by the men’s behaviour? As is typical of Shakespeare, he seems to be following convention and subverting it at the same time. This production emphasizes the latter, highlighting the friends’ selfishness and ending with a song from Silvia and Julia that despite the bleakness of its lyrics asserts female defiance and solidarity.
It’s a fitting conclusion to a production that’s thoughtful as well as a lot of fun.
**** Engagingly imaginative production of a rarely seen Shakespeare play
Photo credit: Gary Calton
The Two Gentlemen Of Verona continues at the Liverpool Everyman until Saturday 29 October 2016. For more information, click HERE.