Two Gentlemen of Verona
BRONTE PHILIPS is impressed with this performance that gives Shakespeare’s play new life in its use of tasteful slapstick.
Corpus Playroom, 7pm, Tue 15th – Sat 19th October 2013, £6/5
It’s a love quadrangle (or pentagon?): Valentine loves Sylvia, destined for Turio. Proteus, his wingman, loves Julia. Julia loves Proteus, but she doesn’t want him to know that. Lance loves his dog, but wouldn’t mind a milkmaid. Then Proteus gets hot for Julia, and that’s when things get sticky.
As the play holds, ‘Love is blind’ – at least, it was for me. I positioned myself on a strategic second row, only to be blocked by Cambridge’s tallest man, seating himself in the otherwise barren row in the space directly in front of me.
Theatre etiquette aside, Pembroke Players, fresh from their tour to Japan, have injected an exuberance and creativity into Shakespeare’s first play attempt, notorious for its many flaws: weak characterisation, gaping plot holes, hyperbolical melodrama and baffling geography to say the least. The confusion instead is constructed as a jovial, boyish, plotted chaos at the higher points of energy, and a surprisingly intimate portrayal of love and friendship in its contrasting lower registers. Shakespeare’s ending is rushed and tied up in a way not dissimilar to a 3am essay hurriedly rounded off – but Pembroke Players make sense of it all, albeit in their own, unconventional way.
All the japes inject interest and laughs into what may otherwise be considered a stock play: a re-enactment of the composition of ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’, an Elizabethan Match.com profile, and a dialogue between a man, two shoes, a rather suggestive stick and a ‘dog’. Such creative additions and tasteful slapstick direction at the hands of Charlie Risius should not be sniffed at. The hyperactivity would verge on panto if it weren’t for the more sensitive moments made emphatic by a distinctly strong cast, and most notably the soliloquies of Charlotte Quinney as Valentine.
To add to the rumpus, women play men, and the men (even more commendably) take on the most fragile of female roles. Such characters, two-dimensional in the play itself, are here brought to life: Freddy Sawyer’s stuck-up Lucetta contrasts superbly with Will Peck’s wimpy (and bestubbled) Julia, whilst a ‘flighty’ Speed doubles as the typical, protective father role. Laura Jayne Ayres as Lance/Turio creates a comedic, Northern lout in Lance (the original Shakespearean fool), and a prattish ‘Paris’ in the suitor Turio. This doubling is dominated by boyish physicality, at times slightly juvenile, but made appropriate by the feminine delicacy of the ‘female’ characters, with Sylvia’s collarbones the envy of many a woman in the audience.
In short, Two Gentlemen of Verona is by no means a witty comedy or the English Lit student’s dream. But, by the finale, Pembroke Players emerge with a play relevant to freshers and third years alike: it is about forging a path in the world, in love and in friendship, whether you are a girl, or a guy – or a bit of both.