Reviewed at New Theatre Royal, Portsmouth
Shakespeare’s early plays are often problematic, with the bawdier comedies such as The Comedy of Errors the faults are hidden within some gloriously silly slapstick, but in The Two Gentlemen Of Verona (quite possibly the first play in Will’s canon) the flaws are writ large. Nonetheless, Shakespeare’s Globe’s gloriously silly touring production makes for a largely enjoyable evening.
Globe On Tour productions are often a great opportunity to spot young talent with great potential – two years ago Bethan Cullinane was touring in their King Lear and is now playing Innogen at the RSC – and there are a couple of performances here that really catch the eye. Leah Brotherhood fully fleshes out the role of Julia, both as forlorn lover and in the first example of Shakespeare putting his female lead into men’s clothes to provide a chance to speak their mind and take action. Similarly Guy Hughes’ swooning Valentine is a nicely realised performance.
The other two young lovers are less well served, Aruhan Galieva does what she can with Sylvia, but it’s an incredibly passive role and only the addition of a reinterpreted ending can give her much to form a character around. Similarly Dharmesh Patel has a tough time with the unlikeable Proteus, resorting to telegraphing his every move with exaggerated grins and gloomy stares.
In a show packed with ideas Shakespeare will later recycle (two pairs of lovers with muddled affections, sarcastic servants who pander to the groundlings, a father choosing unfit suitors for his daughter and a swathe of lines that will reappear elsewhere) the character roles shine, with a number of the performers swapping between them readily. Charlotte Mills’s Launce is a particular delight, especially in her interactions with multi-instrumentalist Fred Thomas who she claims as her dog Crab.
This is a show built for balmy outdoor evenings and it struggles a little when brought indoors and shoved behind a proscenium arch, but nonetheless Nick Bagnall’s sixties setting and a handful of great performances mean there’s lots to enjoy here!