Review: The Two Gentlemen of Verona

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Performed at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre for the first time in 45 years, Shakespeare’s first play The Two Gentlemen of Verona is a treat for any theatre-lover. When Valentine leaves for Milan, his best friend Proteus is sent after him, promising his love to Julia who remains behind. Proteus, however, quickly finds himself enthralled by Valentine’s lover Silvia. In a bid to win Silvia, Proteus crosses his friend and forsakes his true lover in a comedy that has equal measure of serious and weighted moments. Directed by Simon Godwin, The Two Gentlemen of Verona stars a young and fresh cast – and, of course, lurcher Mossup as Crab the dog.

The opening exchange between Valentine and Proteus is, admittedly, not one of the liveliest, given all of the antics that take place on stage whilst the audience are taking their seats (including giving select audience members ice cream and biscuits). However, as soon as servant Speed enters, played by Martin Bassindale, the comedy really takes off. Speed’s chiding of Proteus and well-timed deliveries of punch-lines make him one of the most exciting to watch as the play develops.

In fact, The Two Gentlemen of Verona’s more minor characters shone the most throughout the performance. Launce, played by Roger Morlidge, was also very funny to watch when berating his rather poor excuse for a dog. Morlidge balances the unpredictability of acting beside a dog and the use of props expertly, though Launce’s dismissal by Proteus is rather sad for his final appearance in the play. Even the dog Mossup put on a stellar performance, barking, whimpering and staying motionless on cue. Equally Lucetta, though her strong Scottish accent takes a bit of getting used to, exudes playfulness when speaking all of Shakespeare’s puns and slights against Julia.

Director Simon Godwin has certainly pushed the boundaries with this show. The set locations range from a café to a club, a balcony, and a trap in which two actors were suspended from the ceiling. The drama of the closing scenes – where most of the characters are captured by outlaws – is intensified by Proteus’s head being literally forced underwater several times by Valentine. Godwin’s bravery in staging what is in fact a serious end to the play made the story both exciting and realistic – a bravery congratulated by one of the longest final applauses I have ever heard.

Despite our uncomfortable (cheap) seats, The Two Gentlemen of Verona was excellent to watch, as expected from the most esteemed theatre company in Britain. The only question that remains is: why hasn’t The Two Gentlemen of Verona been performed more often?

The Two Gentlemen of Verona will be live broadcast at the Dukes on Wednesday September 3 at 7pm. Book your tickets here.

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