The Two Gentlemen of Verona (review)

Alexander Cobb in The Two Gentlemen of Verona
Alexander Cobb in The Two Gentlemen of Verona

MAKING Shakespeare relevant to younger audiences is always challenging but the Royal & Derngate has come up with a production that is both bold and exciting.

The Bard’s Two Gentlemen of Verona isn’t one of his most popular tales and its story of love, jealousy, ambition and treachery puts the writer in familiar territory.

But bring the story up-to-date, encompassing the world of pop and high fashion, throw in a respectable playlist and Pythonesque surrealism and there’s the making of an inventive and enjoyable drama.

Director Matthew Dunster has employed the services of a young and ambitious physical theatre company called RashDash to give the production an edgy style.

The two gents in question are a pair of mates who, when work and parental pressure doesn’t get in the way, enjoy fronting their own band.

Away from the spotlight Valentine works for the Duke of Milan, a hotshot fashion designer who bears a remarkable likeness to German designer Karl Lagerfeld, right down to the peroxide hair and fan.

And when daddy’s not looking he also enjoys a lover’s tryst with the Duke’s nubile young daughter, the bewitching Silvia, her father’s protege and star model.

Valentine’s singing partner, Proteus, has a fledgling relationship with a young boutique-owner from his home city – until his father sends him to work alongside his friend and he falls under the spell of the sexy Silvia.

It’s not quite a ménage à trois. A besotted Proteus does his best to make Silvia love him, even attempting to do away with his rival, but he hadn’t bargained on the determination of his former girlfriend, Julia, who disguises herself as a man to spy on her wayward lover.

Billing Two Gentlemen as a comedy is erroneous as there’s precious little in the way of laughs – until the appearance of four bumbling highwaymen who are so absurd that I expected to see Terry Gilliam and the Knights who say Ni standing in the wings.

The music throughout was a mix of garage and house and the finale song, (for Shakespeare did like to end on a high note) “We Are The Outlaws,” was seriously rocking.

There were uniformly confident performances throughout but Alexander Cobb stood out as the scheming and lustful Proteus while Matthew Flynn provided the stern authority figure with duel roles of over protective fathers, the Duke and Proteus’ father Antonio.

Running on the Royal stage until October 22. For tickets call the box office 01604 624811 or go online www.royalandderngate.co.uk

ANNE COX