Two Gentlemen of Verona, Richard Burton Company, Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama

December 2, 2016 by

Two Gentlemen of Verona is one of Shakespeare’s lesser performed plays.  Its themes of friendship, love and transformation should make it a play that is staged more often.  It’s the underlying violence that makes it one for directors to stay away from.  Well done to the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama for not shying away from its themes.

Set in a sun-soaked land, James Horne gives us a set that evokes the time and place.  The use of moving pillars traversing across the stage was at first clever, but on the 10th time of moving became a little grating.  Georgina Illingworth’s costumes were modern and very in keeping with the en vogue fashion posturing of some of the characters.  The black, white and grey theme of the costumes really tied everything together.

The two gentlemen of the title are Valentine (Aly Cruickshank) and Proteus (Joe Wiltshire Smith).  At the beginning of the play, Valentine is leaving on a trip to Milan to broaden his horizons.  Proteus refuses to go with him as he has pledged his faithfulness love to Julia (Lola Petticrew).  Once in Milan, Valentine falls in love with Silvia (Hannah Barker), whom Proteus also then switches allegiances and falls for Silvia.  Valentine is banished by Silvia’s father, leaving Proteus to pursue Silvia.  Of course, the love-sick Julia dresses as a page to follow Proteus as she cannot live with out him.  All four actors give committed performances, although Joe Wiltshire Smith and Hannah Barker give the strongest.  The other stand out performance was Elysia Welch as Speed.  She really shone in the few scenes she did have.

Caroline Byrne ably directs this production.  In her programme notes she says that the play is about desperate people doing desperate things to get what they want.  Proteus is so blinded by love and lust that is thinks forcing himself on Silvia is justifiable.  Julia is willing to accept Proteus even after she sees what he is capable of.  For a modern audience, some of this blind allegiance seems to go against what we believe is right, but it also shows us what desperation can do.

However, the director’s decision to use slow motion sequences didn’t quite work for me.  Once again, it was over used and should have been deployed sparingly.  George Pearce’ lighting design lacked balance and it was quite hard to see some of the actors when they were delivering important lines.  This, for me was a distraction.

Overall, this production succeeds in blending the mix of comedy and tragedy that this play portrays.  It has resonance for a modern audience, but it’s quite hard to grasp such easy switching of allegiance and acceptance of the violence that proteus thrusts upon Silvia.

I would have liked less moving of pillars and more light on the actors, but these are small niggles about a play that is hard to stage.

People in love do desperate things to get what they want.

Until December 10

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