How to stage a production of Shakespeare in these jaded times? One approach is to let every new staging live or die by the quality of the text and performances. Another to transfer the setting to the modern day; another period or place. Both are valid approaches, in the latter case Nick Bagnall’s magical A Midsummer Night’s Dream last year was a textbook case of enhancing and enriching a Shakespeare. Odd then that in Two Gentlemen Of Verona the exact opposite seems to be the case.
This new co-production with Shakespeare’s Globe is set in 1966, apparently. Beyond music and costume there is no sense whatsoever that any of the proceedings take place in swinging Milan. Instead it seems to be an excuse for the cast to break into song and dance routines whenever the narrative threatens to get in the way.
If the text is the thing, it seems unfortunate that it’s overwhelmed by a dayglo set festooned with ladders, a live band breaking into an impromptu jam, and afghan coats. It’s not just the fripperies though, some of the performances are so loud they drown out others. It feels as if half the cast is going Hell for leather and the others are attempting a BBC four-camera adaptation circa 1975.
This is a shame as there’s lots of good work on show here. Guy Hughes as Valentine is gauche and winning, all elbows and Matt Smith. Charlotte Milles as Launce steals every scene she’s in, her monologues an undeniable success. Garry Cooper’s Duke – part Ian Dury; part velociraptor – is never less than arresting, more slithering over the wainscot than chewing the furniture.
But it’s frequently all a bit much, as if everyone is trying to raise their performance to compete with the scenery and musical interludes, which feel as if they’ve been bolted on with a staplegun.
What’s so baffling is that transplanting Two Gentlemen Of Verona to a more modern setting adds almost nothing, barring a hint of 60s crapulousness courtesy of naff music. It means the cast trade one set of mannered performances for another.
The failed rape scene that concludes the play, followed with the queasy reconciliation of the play’s four leads, is complemented with a wailing Janis Joplin rendition that suggest it could have worked. But ultimately this new production fails to explore the play’s darker themes or fully commit to the riotous, pantomimic reinvention it seems to gesture at.
The Two Gentlemen of Verona
Until 29 October