Friends: people attached to others by feelings of affection or personal regard, who give assistance; patrons or supporters: another, or a group, who is not or are not hostile. Well, that’s the theory anyway. Shakespeare’s The Two Gentlemen of Verona – Proteus and Valentine – are friends, supposedly, with one having a very different take on the ideal of being BBFs. After all, the fire closest kept burns most of all.
Set in 1966, and all that went with it, the action is set out across a prop-free thrust stage, with another smaller built stage to the back which houses all manner of musical instruments. Regulars to the Everyman will recognise the set up. It is that which is used every year at the theatre’s Rock ‘n’ Roll panto, except this one is decorated to look something akin to a 1960s Radio Rentals shop window. It’s loud and it’s brash and it works surprisingly well as the play unfolds, with its roof becoming a third platform upon which to perform and its sides bedecked with ladders from which to hang and swing.
The primary theme is the conflict between loyalty to friends and submission to passion. In other words, do we do the dirty on a mate when he’s gone away when we find out his girl/boyfriend is a bit of alright ourselves.
What ensues is a bawdy couple of hours which, oftentimes is quite unusual in a Shakespeare comedy, that is actually quite funny and, in turns, quite revealing. The imaginative manner in which parts of the script are delivered helps a great deal in this respect, with lines of dialogue being given a make-over and turned into songs resplendent in 1960s rhythms which adds dramatically to the pace being kept up. Oh, and the cast – as they also do in the Pantos – play their own instruments superbly well.
Director Nick Bagnall’s staging and Tom Jackson Greaves’ choreography work and absolute treat, as the myriad of threads are finally woven together by this multi-talented cast.
At the front and centre are Guy Hughes and Dharmesh Patel as the titular two. Both fizz with enthusiasm and energy, which brings their naiveté and inexperience all the more to the fore in outlandish style. Lest we forget, the two ‘gentlemen’ of the play are in fact two adolescents in real terms and it is this boyish frivolity that really stands out. At least, that is until things start to turn a bit sour.
As the centres of attention for both Valentine and Proteus, Aruhan Galieva’s Silvia is all consistently brash, cold aloofness whereas Leah Brotherhead’s Julia – who, dresses up as a boy to get the inside info on her wayward bloke’s affections – is the opposite side of the same coin and the two marry up well to deliver a clear description of what it is like to be without those we hold most dear.
Excellent too, as the somewhat Pantomime villainesque Duke is Garry Cooper. An actor who’s slicked back grey hair adds a natural nastiness to his demeanour, along with a superb grasp of how to wring the most from his characters. Cooper is aided and abetted by a superb Amber James as his spoiled son Thurio – amongst her other roles in the play – whose performance is notable by its controlled, snooty vigour and brilliant timing. As the manservant Speed, last minute stand in T J Holmes is as funny as he is personable and cheeky. This is no Baldrick. Indeed, the dutiful acceptance he displays is as warm and inviting as a freshly made up bed after a long hard day.
Yet, as is often the case in Shakespeare, it is the common man who best describes what friendship should be. Here it is Charlotte Mills as Launce – and her dog Crab, played with fantastic laconic disinterest by Fred Thomas – who deliver the deal with more than a modicum of laughs, a great deal of audience participation and some witty one liners that all consistently hit the mark.
All in all, this current production of The Two Gentlemen of Verona is rewarded fully for its inventive approach, its imaginative delivery and it’s daring boundary pushing as to what friendship truly is. After all, it’s a concept that’s as important today as it was back when Will was scribbling and its principles have not altered a jot in the meantime.
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
PR Rating: *****Invigoratingly Inventive