The Two Gentlemen of Verona
By William Shakespeare
Produced by Shakespeare’s Globe and Liverpool Everyman & Playhouse
Directed by Nick Bagnall
Designed by Katie Sykes
Composer James Fortune
Sam Wanamaker Playhouse
Shakespeare’s Globe, Southwark, London
Saturday 24th September 2016, 20.00
Leah Brotherhead as Julia
Garry Cooper as Duke of Milan/Antonio, his brother
Aruhan Galieva as Sylvia, daughter to the Duke of Milan
Guy Hughes as Valentine
Amber James as Lucetta/Panthino/Sir Trurio
T.J. Holmes (understudy) as Speed/Sir Eglamour
Charlotte Mills as Launce
Dharmesh Patel as Proteus
Fred Thomas as Musician, Crab the dog
Aruhan Galieva as Silvia on the poster
No photos of The Wanamaker are on line yet. This LINK takes you to the Globe blog for pictures of the tour.
We were a tad annoyed with this before we got there. We had the impression that this was a Sam Wanamaker Playhouse production, starting in late September. In fact, it has been touring the UK and Europe since May and we could have seen it in Salisbury, Portsmouth, Oxford, Exeter or Brighton at less than half the price with far easier travel. So it’s NOT utilizing the Wanamaker magic, nor is it designed and blocked for the stage, it’s merely utilizing the availability of a second venue at The Globe and one which spends most of the summer shut.
In fact doing so with touring productions is a very good idea and could and should be followed up. However, we did not think it was made clear enough to early bookers that this was near the end of a UK tour, though perhaps I should have worked out that plays don’t come to the Globe’s theatres for just 12 days, and noticed ON TOUR. It finishes in Liverpool at the Everyman, where it spends all of October.
I’ve seen the play twice. I loved the stripped down, small cast 2013 Tobacco Factory version set in the Edwardian era, while the large and elaborate 2014 RSC production was set in the 1960s, and was one of the very few RSC productions which failed to engage me. The first question here was whether the candlelit concept of a Jacobean private theatre was going to be continued with a touring play set in 1966. The second is they’d specifically said “1966” which meant my eagle eye for historical accuracy on the 1960s was twitching away before I got seated.
When you impose a mighty modern concept on a Shakespeare play, you can stay faithful to the text, as did the Baz Lurhmann Romeo and Juliet with Leonardo DiCaprio, but if you start cutting lines wholesale, there comes a point of balance where you should go the whole way and create a new work (West Side Story, say) or rein yourself in. The overwhelming thing we felt here was that the cuts and doubling lost too much of the text, rendering the plot spotty and hard to follow.
The instant synopsis, or reminder of the plot. Valentine and Proteus are best buddies in Verona. Proteus is in love with the sweet Julia, who has a comic servant Lucetta.
Valentine sets off for Milan to study in the big city. He goes with his comic servant, Speed. When he gets there he falls in love with Silvia, the daughter of the Duke of Milan. Proteus visits with his comic servant Launce, who has a dog. Proteus falls for Silvia too. (Poor Silvia hasn’t got a comic servant).
Valentine tells his best mate that he’s going to elope with Silvia by climbing up a rope ladder to her room. Proteus foils the plan by revealing all to the Duke. So Valentine gets banished.
Meanwhile, Julia has decided to go and seek Proteus by disguising herself as a boy. In the forest, Valentine acts tough (I killed a man) to gain entry to the outlaw band (or here, The Outlaws. A band.) The band are led by the Duke’s exiled brother, Antonio ; forget that, there is not a mention of it here. Julia turns up. Proteus tries to rape her. Valentine rescues her. In spite of seeing the attempted rape, Julia is reconciled with Proteus. The Duke allows Valentine to marry Silvia.
That’s a highly truncated version, but so is this production. This must have been designed with the outside festival venues in mind, big, trying to get a “non-Shakespeare” audience enthused by all the bustle and music and activity.
Then you take it into the Wanamaker Playhouse. You retain the candle lighting, which I guess is all you can do, though you spotlight the inner stage with keyboards and drum kit. There in that wooden reproduction of a Jacobean indoor theatre, it felt too big and painted with too broad a brush in the performances for the intimacy of the space.
The red, orange, yellow framed inner stage has ladders either side which are used a great deal, as is the platform on top. There’s an awful lot of climbing going on. Incidentally that inner frame is meant to represent Top of The Pops. Hang on, the play’s set in 1966, when Top of The Pops was black and white. That curved corner rectangle is surely mid 70s … but let’s not start on 1966 authenticity in costume or concept, it’s all wildly awry. As it happens, we had spent the afternoon at the Victoria & Albert Museum’s 60s exhibition “You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966-1970″ so were steeped in the look and feel of 1966.
It used similar motifs … the letters and messages became 7” 45 rpm singles, ostensibly played on a Dansette record player.I don’t know how they smashed them rather than tore them up, because most 45s would survive being thrown on the floor. Were they made for the production?
I liked the division between Verona, a place of beige cardigans, knee length skirts and easy-listening music, and Milan, centre of pop. That’s right for the era … easy listening sold in vast numbers, and we 60s survivors recall our horror and disgust that a year later, 1967, Englebert Humperdink’s dire Release Me kept Strawberry Fields Forever from the top of the charts. Before the play we heard recordings (a first for the Wanamaker Playhouse) of Jim Reeves Make The World Go Away, and Bob Lind’s Elusive Butterfly. The Veronese get really excited when playing Jim Reeves Distant Drums on the Dansette. Jim Reeves was only heard in Irish pubs at the time, and the sound of Distant Drums on the jukebox meant “Run! Hippie!” to me.
They arrive in Milan to a pop song, Milano, one of the better all-out pieces of music. Everyone on the stage had to work so hard, what with doubling or trebling roles and having to play instruments as well. The music was somewhat weak, because mainly there wasn’t an actual song, the exception being Thurio doing James Brown on a torch soul ballad about Silvia (a high point musically and in performance). Fred Thomas as “The Musician” was clearly the “real musician” on stage, notable when he picked up guitar, played a bass solo into the interval, or when he took over drums and simply hit them harder. You did notice that the recording played to start the interval … Muddy Waters I’m A Man, and at the end, James Brown’s It’s A Man’s, Man’s World, were so much stronger.
This is real touring one for all, all for one, non-stop work. Guy Hughes played Valentine, which also meant playing guitar, bass guitar and saxophone. Fred Thomas as “musician” played electric guitar, acoustic guitar, keys, banjo and drums, as well as being Crab The Dog. Amber James had to cover Lucetta (Julia’s comic servant), Sir Thurio, the prattish swain, Panthino, play drums (pretty well too), and do the chorus singing stuff. Aruhan Galieva had to play Silvia and keyboards and bass guitar. T.J. Holmes had replaced Adam Keast as Speed / Eglamour, and as well as taking on the twin roles, had to play bass guitar as well … not a normal understudy assignment. Face it, everybody had to play bass guitar at one time or another. I reflected on the years I spent learning how to play it with depression. It’s obviously dead easy to anyone with half a musical ear.
Herein lies some of the issues of a cast of nine. You could have got away with eleven or twelve, but nine was too few. Lucetta’s has been the funniest role the other times we’ve seen it, but was cut to too little here … and not enough made of the major scene with Julia and the letters, nor when Julia dresses as a boy to disguise herself as she follows Proteus into the forest. Garry Cooper doubled The Duke and his exiled brother Antonio, but as Antonio, now leader of the outlaws in the forest, he had lost all his lines. The Outlaws are now a hippy rock band, and Valentine has to prove his toughness so that he can join them by playing lead guitar. You’d have to know the play to realize that the character hanging about at the rear wasn’t the Duke with his jacket off and a headscarf on, as everyone else had donned hippie garb anyway. It was another among many examples of key plot points being cut.
We should remember from the glorious Shakespeare in Love (film and stage play) that “the dog” was a major hit with audiences. It always is. Was it a good idea to make the musician into “the dog”? OK, it gave Launce, the servant (Charlotte Mills) a couple of new, good funny bits in casting the musician as the dog, but it lost a dozen others. As this toured Europe, they had no possibility of using a real dog because of our thankfully still intact quarantine laws. Charlotte Mills excelled in that dreaded, really really hard “Shakespearean clown with unfunny jokes” role.
The cuts confused the Proteus / Valentine dynamic. While their passionate embrace on meeting again was funny, I think their hidden love relationship is tacked on to the text extraneously.
Garry Cooper as The Duke of Milan (TOUR, not Wanamaker), Julia left, Silvia right
There are some bizarre performances. You can’t take your eyes off Garry Cooper as the Duke of Milan, jerking spasmodically, intoning the lines richly, bending over like Olivier’s Richard III at times as he twitches, but going beyond “big” or “large” as a performance to absolutely off the clock. I can see how strong it is in the open air at Castle Donnington or Brighton Festival, but it really overwhelms the tight space in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. What’s it supposed to be? I wondered if it was the aristocratic drugged up pop managers of the era, as experienced by The Who, permanently speeding on purple hearts. It comes out almost as a parody on 19th century Shakesperean over-acting. As I say, very commanding too, but odd.
I would give Guy Hughes as Valentine the “man of the match award” though he channeled his physical similarity to John Cleese, aided by the moustache. Sorry, I thought Proteus came over weakly. He lacked physical presence … and the last RSC production had exactly the same problem, though in Stratford it was both the gentlemen who failed to make an impact. Here Valentine was appropriately a fall guy and funny. Proteus has got to be more macho and more full of himself, or at least more of a conniving slime. This guy is stabbing his best mate in the back, by trying to pull his girl. He’s got to be more of a bastard. On the other hand, the attempted rape of Silvia was done powerfully, and for a change she didn’t just shrug it off but stayed traumatized through to the end. Better done than usual.
Why was Silvia dressed in early 60s or late 50s Italian? I don’t get the costume reference, though giving Julia Bob Dylan hat when she dresses as a boy was OK … but could have gone further. OK, we were negative on the costumes throughout.
As to taking a pop version with electric music into the Sam Wanamaker … well, yes, use the available space between stuff designed for the theatre. Put touring stuff in there, though the candles then become a bit daft. But ominously, I counted a dozen empty seats after the interval in the lower galley near me alone. At the very high ticket prices, that’s a lot. The Wanamaker usually does lose a few at the break due to hard bench fatigue, but that’s too many in a small premium area on a Saturday evening. It happens a lot in the West End, where big companies buy up corporate seats for foreign VIPs well in advance (they’ve always got some visiting) and the foreign VIPs leave at half time, not being able to follow the words. But that shouldn’t happen at The Globe or RSC which aren’t part of the same West End networks and sell out to members. I would hazard it was either surprise or distaste (I noticed a couple with hands on their ears in the guitar playing) clearing the seats, but who knows?
I enjoyed the enthusiasm and effort from a young cast. I thought there were some good ideas, but overall, it lost Shakespeare’s play, and the replacement bits weren’t coherent enough to compensate. It’s the third time I’ve seen the play, and thought two productions weak. I gave The Tobacco Factory four stars for their Edwardian small cast romp, the RSC two for its very large cast, no expense spared slickly early 60s Italian version. This had more energy than the RSC, and the Tobacco Factory proved small cast can work, but in this one the plot was rendered incoherent.
Sorry, this has to be another two.
Henry VI Parts 1 – III, Globe, touring in 2013, at Bath
(as Harry The Sixth, The Houses of York & Lancaster & The True Tragedy of The Duke of York) Nick Bagnall had to step in and play the Duke of Suffolk himself on the day.