Monday, June 24, 2013

The Two Gentlemen of Verona Review

The Two Gentlemen of Verona
Theatre Royal Winchester

I have heard of the Tobacco Factory's well received Shakespeare productions, and The Two Gentlemen of Verona is their latest one. I read that the director wanted to take a subdued approach to this comedy, but for a lightweight play that stretches believability at times I felt the company took the play too seriously. The production opens in Verona, where Valentine (Jack Bannell) says goodbye to his lifelong friend, Proteus (Piers Wehner) before leaving for Milan. The restrained performances from Bannell and Wehner did not convince me that their characters have known each other all their lives.  Furthermore, before following Valentine to Milan the play then establishes that Proteus is in love with noblewoman Julia (Dorothea Myer-Bennett). However the development of this romance is distracted by a musical interlude. The tendency to add songs to this play detracts from the main action.

It is only when the farce gets going that the cast come into their own. Soon Proteus follows Valentine to Milan and is attracted to the Duke of Milan's (Peter Clifford) daughter and his friend's lover, Silvia (Lisa Kay). If I could not get sense Proteus' relationship with Julia, Piers Wehner does show an infatuated Proteus who desires Silvia, even when it means betraying Valentine and Julia. Jack Bannell's Valentine becomes the tragic hero when Proteus betrays his plan to run away with Silvia. The Duke forces him into a corner as he unwillingly surrenders the evidence of his scheme. In exile a unhappy Valentine finds new purpose as a Robin Hood figure when he becomes the leader of bandits.

My favourite actor would be Dorothea Myer-Bennett as Julia. During a playful Act 1 Scene 2 she pretends to refuse Proteus' letter that her woman in waiting, Lucetta (Nicky Goldie), tries to give her. She shows longing for Proteus, by picking up the discarded pieces of the letter and kissing them devotedly. When Proteus goes to Milan she decides to follow him disguised as a boy. She gives a heartbreaking performance when she inevitably discovers Proteus' desire for Silvia, struggling to keep her disquise whilst hiding her tears.

Lisa Kay was a witty and bold Silvia as she stood resolute on her balcony whilst Proteus attempts to woo her below. As the two clowns, Launce and Speed, Chris Donnelly and Marc Geoffrey work admirably together. In addition the dog playing Crab, Lollio, is a joy to watch, and Chris Donnelly delightfully bemoans how his impassive pet never gives him any sympathy for all his troubles. Paul Currier was a weedy and vain rival for Silvia's affections as Lord Turio. As the Duke of Milan Peter Clifford slyly exposes Valentine's scheme and his eventual confrontation was  enough to leave Valentine shaken to the core. Finally, although his part was short, Alan Coveney was impressive as an eccentric Eglamour.

The set is a basic promenade with chairs, tables and band stand to match. Despite my reservations about the music, the change of setting from Verona to Milan was wonderfully performed by the onstage band and some dancing waiters. There is a clever lighting design choice when the production switches back to Verona at one point without causing confusion. The production team did well to set the play in Edwardian times, though the inclusion of a medieval sword did not gel with the rest of the setting.

The company did try to sweeten what is a problematic Act 5 Scene 4, though it did not help to address the inconsistent choices the characters make in the end. Overall this is a well acted, if restrained production. Certain actors however do shine and they help to make The Two Gentlemen of Verona an enjoyable production worth seeing at a High Bargain.

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