Though this may be the very first Shakespeare play, and though everyone always talks about how it has sketches within it for what it is to come (girls disguising themselves as boys to pursue lovers, denouements in the forest), this play of the power of young love and of friendship is sophisticated and fascinating, movingly done, full of suitable humour and able to encompass both the lighter and the darker aspects of the story. The play’s setting is updated and the opening in Verona is set in a kind of funky club where the youth can hang out. We start out with good cheer and no suspicion of the troubled emotions to come; and then, as the tale darkens and Proteus finds his own selfish and self-serving side, the production darkens too. A story of contrasts: loyalty versus betrayals; sleepy Verona versus sophisticated Milan; integrity of character versus tricky self-seeking. Simon Godwin’s debut as a director at Stratford is more than promising – it is a resounding success. A less frolicsome and hilarious Two Gents than I have seen in some time, the production rightly emphasizes the more serious subtext of the tale.
Like their director Simon Godwin, the actors Michael Marcus (Valentine), Mark Arends (Proteus), Sarah MacRae (Silvia), Pearl Chanda (Julia) and Leigh Quinn (Lucetta) are – along with several other members of the cast – debut artists with the company. All I can say is that I came away wanting to see every one of them again, wanting to attend more productions by Godwin and hoping to watch the development of all their careers. Like the young Shakespeare’s play, there was a lot of promise up on that stage.
I might have liked a little more interplay between Launce (a fine Roger Morlidge) and his dog Crab (played by Mossup with great skill), but that is just a quibble and probably a choice by the director who is definitely seeking to create a more thoughtful approach to this play than is usual. The company seamlessly achieves a more thought provoking, arresting and certainly emotionally engaging interpretation. And a special mention should be made for the set design, the nightclub in Verona, the arrival of the forest in the second half are visually striking and memorable.
It is an excellent thing to be able to see what is probably the first play of Shakespeare’s career so well done! And to discover so much talent in the next generation.