Brighton Festival 2016
Valentine loves Silvia and Proteus loves Julia – but Proteus is fickle, and falls for Silvia too. When Valentine plots an elopement, Proteus betrays him and Valentine is banished and joins some outlaws in the forest. What are the chances that he’ll be pursued by Silvia, and Silvia by Proteus, and Proteus by Julia, and that all will be waited upon by their servants Speed and Launce, and even Launce’s dog, Crab? This riotous new production is led by a joyful ensemble of players who will delight with songs, romance and chaos, and hurl Shakespeare’s anarchic comedy into the 21st-century.
Emma Rice of Kneehigh fame is the new Director of the Globe Theatre, and it shows. This production from the Globe Theatre on tour has a very definite Kneehigh stamp on it, far more so than the previous outdoor Shakespeare productions I have seen in the Brighton Festival. This is most evident from the significant part that live music and song has to play in the piece (and the style of said music), something that definitely increased my enjoyment of the show.
Two Gentlemen… is a lesser-known Shakespearean comedy, and one can’t help thinking that perhaps there is good reason for that. If I had one overarching criticism of the play it would be the script, which feels almost blasphemous to say, but there you have it.
The piece follows a fairly predictable Shakespearean comedy trope of unrequited love, romps through forests and cross dressing women, but somehow Two Gentlemen… just doesn’t do it quite so well as some of the others. Yet I would say that it is certainly an admirable quest to resurrect some of these less famous plays, as the world really doesn’t need yet another outdoor production of A Midsummer Nights Dream, however superior the story might be.
The Globe worked with what they had on this production, and did it well, however they absolutely could have cut the script down. No production, barring perhaps Hamlet needs to be 2.5 hours long when you are sitting outside on uncomfortable benches. We were there on a glorious evening, but it would have been unimaginable to sit for that long in a light drizzle or howling wind. The show would have lost nothing if they slashed away a couple of minor characters and a bit of the exposition, and all of our backs would have been happier.
However some of the less central characters were particularly enjoyable in this show – Proteus’ page, Launce was very funny and well performed by Charlotte Mills, with some nice audience interaction. Valentine, one of the ‘Two Gentlemen’, was also well crafted by Aruhan Galieva, playing up his posh boy appearance and foppish attitude to great effect.
The venue for these outdoor Shakespeare shows has moved this year to the newly built Brighton Open Air Theatre (BOAT), on Dyke Road, which is a fabulous addition to the city, and a really wonderful location for shows such as this. The sightlines were all great, and I imagine the shape of it made it easier to hear the performers.
On the point of audibility however, I would say that the show could perhaps have benefitted greatly from the actors being mic’d up. I was fairly near the front, and didn’t have any problem hearing what was being said, but I know that the style of the actors’ delivery was heavily influenced by the outdoor location and the need to bellow much of what was being said. I felt that this led to a far more ‘stagey’ and overblown delivery than was necessary, and we may have got a more subtle and nuanced performance if the actors had been able to talk in a normal tone.
All that being said, this was an enjoyable production, well performed and full of energy. The 1960s setting worked well enough, with the nice device of letters being delivered as records, and their content being sung. It also gave the musical element a fun context, with some great doo-wop moments and fantastic costumes. It probably won’t be making a major comeback as a top Shakespeare play any time soon, but watching Two Gentlemen… on a balmy May evening, surrounded by the most middle class selection of picnic food the world has ever seen, was a very nice way to pass the time.