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WILL AND ME: RSC'S The Two Gentlemen of Verona (2014) Review
RSC'S THE TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA (2014) REVIEW:
CAST: Mark Arends, Elliot Barnes-Worrell, Martin Bassindale, Pearl Chanda, Nicholas Gerard-Martin, Robert Gilbert, Jonny Glynn Molly Gromadzki, Youssef Kerkour, Sarah MacRae, Michael Marcus, Roger Morlidge, Mossup the Dog, Keith Osborn, Leigh Quinn – Lucetta, Simon Yadoo
Thirteen months ago, I experienced one of the most intoxicating nights of theatre I could ever have: On the 20th of September I went to see a production of Shakespeare’s The Two Gentlemen of Verona that was staged by some students doing a Diploma course in Theatre Arts at the university I was attending last year. The play—as I found out the night before I went to the show—was not one of Shakespeare’s most well-known plays, with the scenes featuring Launce and Crab probably being the only aspect of the story that theatre lovers actually remember. The plot was not solid and the characters were fairly wooden….but that didn’t stop the Theatre Arts students (and their director Glenda LinscottGlenda LinscottGlenda Linscott) from staging it before a paying audience! And by a stroke of good luck, it practically became one of the most successful theatrical productions that Swinburne University of Technology had to offer that year. (Well, that and their production of Nick Enright’s Blackrock.) They took a daring risk in producing an almost long forgotten play by a wordsmith who has produced much better work during his lifetime, and by Jove, it paid off in some many ways!
The production had enthusiasm, twisted humour, dedicated and very well-educated thespians, an ingenious director, a 1960s setting….and a crossover with Puck and the fairies from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The project was placed into the hands of a director who wasn’t afraid to push the limits by adding in characters from other Shakespearean plays to use as narrators/chorus to help fill in the plot holes that Two Gents had/have to offer. And as a result, I consider my trip to that production as one of the greatest nights of my life!
Since the day I first developed a passion for theatre, I don’t think I have ever enjoyed a show that much before! I’ve been passionate about theatre since I was in the seventh grade, but that night—20th September, 2013—was the first time I ever saw a play that touched me in ways that I….well, you get the idea!
I’ve seen great theatre before, but never like Linscott’s Two Gentlemen of Verona. I have held that night close to my heart. The night where I felt not only infinite, but where I felt a better understanding of what attracted me to the magical world of the performing arts in the first place.
When I heard that the Royal Shakespeare Company’s next production was going to be a long overdue revival of Two Gents (it has been at least 45 years since it was last performed by the company), I was completely thrilled. (Well….I was thrilled once I got over my disappointment of the fact that after showing Henry IV, they weren’t going to continue the story of Prince Hal with Henry V.) I enjoyed the Theatre Arts student’s production so much that I wanted to see other interpretations of the play. And the news of the new production being staged by one of the greatest theatrical groups in the United Kingdom was a God sent in my opinion!
I have practically spent the last few months since seeing Henry IV waiting on pins and needles to see this new production of what could have been the first play that the bard from Avon ever wrote. And were my expectation’s met?
No, they were not!
For those who are unfamiliar with the story (which wouldn’t be a surprise since it’s a forgotten play), The Two Gentlemen of Verona tells the story of Proteus and Valentine, two best friends who go their separate ways, one seeking adventure and the other pursuing love. Having travelled to Milan in search of adventure, they both fall for the Duke's daughter Silvia. But Proteus is already sworn to his sweetheart Julia at home in Verona, and the Duke thinks Valentine is not good enough for his Silvia.
With friendship forgotten, the rivals' affections quickly get out of hand as the four young lovers find themselves on a wild chase through the woods, confused by mistaken identity and threatened by fierce outlaws before they find a path to reconciliation.
When I bought my ticket for this production, I was hoping to see a five star production that matched the standards of Swinburne’s production. But all I saw was a three hour snore-fest that wasn’t worth the $24 admission price! The cast were a talented bunch (with the exception of Leigh Quinn as Lucetta the Lady-in-Waiting, giving us an ANNOYING character that looks like a bimbo-ized portrayal of Carla Tortelli from Cheers), the production design was breath taking, and the music used for the production was something that never leaves your ears. But the direction of Simon Godwin and how the text was interpreted was a massive bring down! The Two Gentlemen of Verona is a play that is rarely performed because of its weakness, and this production isn’t making it less unappealing!
With the production I saw at Swinburne all those months ago, the people working behind the scenes were a daring bunch who saw what needed to be fixed and knew that in order to present a brilliant stage production, one must give it their all and love what they do! Simon Godwin and his crew on the other hand have made it clear that they spent the entire rehearsal period playing it safe and keeping a stoic face. Godwin rarely does anything creative with the text, and when he does make an attempt at giving the play a twist or an edge, he makes all the wrong moves!
Notability, these are the wrong moves that make me cringe every time I think about it:
The show begins with a specially added silent prologue where we see all our main characters have a coffee or an ice-cream in a public square in fair Verona, introducing the story’s set up. Though it was a pretty good idea at first, the entire scene immediately out stays its welcome by going on for too long. (What was meant to be a creative way to create atmosphere just leaves you wanting to stand up in the theatre/cinema and shout: “GET ON WITH IT!!!)
And the other wrong move that Simon Godwin has made was the frequent use of sexual metaphors and crude gestures. (Feeling up one another, using long objects to make penis jokes, brief dry-humping….that sort of stuff that you would see immature teenagers do during Muck-up Day at school!) They were unnecessary, sickening and in poor taste! The subject of lust and sexuality in this is completely unfunny and poorly handled! (You wouldn’t believe how queasy I felt when I looked all around the cinema and saw that my fellow theatre/cinema patrons—primarily made up of senior citizens—actually found those so-called “jokes” funny. Who the hell even finds sexual jokes funny these days? Has Australia become a country of eight year olds?)
The cast were great, but the production all together was a massive middle finger towards my expectations. It lacked leadership and enthusiasm, and it had no humour in it whatsoever! Just endless scenes of sexism and childishness! (This wouldn’t have happened if Gregory Doran was directing the production! He would have given it wit and class!)
Believe me, if you want to see a PROPER interpretation of The Two Gentlemen of Verona, invent a time machine and go back to 20th September 2013 so that you can see Glenda Linscott’s production. As far as I’m concerned, that interpretation shall ALWAYS be the right way to perform the play. Whilst that production gave audiences a magical evening, the production produced by The Royal Shakespeare Company gave audiences a reason to continue snubbing the play for another 45 years.