The Two Gentlemen of Verona
The Liverpool Everyman Theatre
October 5 – October 29
Author: William Shakespeare
Director: Nick Bagnall
Cast Includes: Leah Brotherhead, Guy Hughes, Dharmesh Patel, Aruhan Galieva, Garry Cooper, Charlotte Mills, Amber James, T J Holmes, Fred Thomas
Running Time: 2 hours 20 minutes
Forsooth! ‘Tis those Two Gentlmen of Verona and they’re camping it up big time at The Liverpool Everyman Theatre until the end of the month, in Nick Bagnall’s imaginative reinvention that has recently toured most of Europe recently.
This is a story about friendship and loyalty. Of doing what’s right by those we hold closest to our hearts; a tale of passion, fidelity and honour. Sort of. Setting the production in the swinging heyday of 1966, when The Beatles were reputedly bigger than Jesus and Nobby Stiles was toothlessly and joyously skipping around Wembley, is a master stroke. Boys and girls were discovering more about themselves than ever before and love and sex were often becoming more confused.
It is also thought to be Shakespeare’s first crack at writing a play, so if some of the devices it holds – girls dressing up as boys, woodland settings and masters using their man servants (stop tittering at the back!) as couriers for deceit – then this is why.
The set is a sort of mix between a Pearl & Dean advertising sequence and the psychedelic intro to a 1960s Noel Edmond’s Multi-coloured Swapshop. A mini-stage is at the back to hold the actors as they play their collection of assorted instruments – some of the original dialogue is sung to a swing time, 60s rhythm which, somehow and somewhat surprisingly works – and becomes a stage within a stage to boot. The roof becomes another performance platform and the ladders either side become swings from which to hang and gyrate suggestively.
It’s all very impressive, if somewhat exhausting to watch, as the nine strong cast scamper and scurry all around it. One thing that isn’t in any doubt, however, is that the cast cannot only act superbly well, they are all creative musicians. Okay, so at times the music overcomes the dialogue – and the use of the old fashioned, stand up mics might have been better considered – but overall it’s a concept that works.
With Valentine and Proteus as best mates in dull old Verona, it is the former who decides to sample the bright lights of Milan and so leaves poor old Silvia, the love of his life, and Proteus behind.
A sort of Elizabethan Men Behaving Badly scenario then ensues. You know, when poor old Tony tries to seduce the uber-reluctant Debs. With Valentine out of the way, Proteus realises Silvia is a bit hot and the door swings open for him to try and woo his buddy’s girl, here in a manner befitting a young Michael Caine in Alfie. Sadly for Proteus, however, there is to be no Tony & Dorothy moment as Silvia successfully and scornfully resists his advances.
As the respective titular headliners, Guy Hughes and Dharmesh Patel are quite excellent. Their zest and zip results in their performances being beyond energised, but just the right side of controlled. In the script, both ‘gentlemen’ are not much more than boys and it is this naiveté and gutsy youthfulness that most shines through, particularly in Act One.
As their ‘Chicks’, Aruhan Galieva as Silvia and Leah Brotherhead as Julia as so beautifully opposed in their manner, it is as though Old Bill has written the parts for them. Galieva’s aloof, stern disposition perfectly mirrors the hope and joy, which is all too soon to be crushed, of Brotherhead’s Julia and the two work hand-in-hand delightfully to get their positions across and their points made.
As the Duke, Garry Cooper is devilishly fiendish and well served by Amber James in the role of his spoiled brat of a son, Thurio. The pair of them are great when together and spin through the proceedings like effervescent tops on speed.
Speaking of Speed, last minute stand in for the role, T J Holmes, bubbles and crackles excitedly, demonstrating that if loyalty means doing as one is told then friendship is an altogether different thing.
Yet if loyalty and friendship are to be combined, then it is the love that Launce, played here superbly by Charlotte Mills, has for his dog, Crab, played with delightful laconic disinterest by Fred Thomas. Both characters truly underline the point that money can’t buy love, with their actors shining like candles in the gloom throughout.
Packed with some fabulous dance moves, more than a smattering of modern day parlance and a whole array of 60s costumes to make those who remember the fashion disasters that prevailed cringe, this production of Two Gents is more than a pleasure to witness and conjurs up more than a few out-and-out laughs. Which, for a Shakespeare comedy – especially Shakespeare’s first comedy – is something of an achievement in itself.