No-one knows for sure, but there’s every possibility that The Two Gentlemen of Verona is Shakespeare’s very first effort at writing a play – and not even the mighty Globe’s touring company, stopping off in Portsmouth for the week, can make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.
Because, let’s be honest, Two Gentlemen is not the Bard’s finest hour. By a long chalk.
It’s a weak plot, with language that only ever dips its toes into the greatness that Shakespeare’s later works possess and with a resolution that defies belief.
But, that said, the Globe’s very creative production makes for an enjoyable evening.
Set in the late 1960s with a cast of nine actor/musicians, the production is colourful and inventive. I didn’t quite get the need for the multi-level set which seemed more of a gimmick than a necessity, but the cast use it creatively.
It is rare to get an actor/musician cast that excels at both disciplines, but here they manage very nicely. Vocals are strong, too, with Guy Hughes’ (Valentine) solo towards the end of the second half being particularly moving.
Leah Brotherhead as Julia and Aruhan Galieva as Silvia give the greatest depth to their characters helped, I suspect, by director Nick Bagnall’s very clever re-interpretation of that belief-defying end.
Dharmesh Patel faces a difficult task bringing realism to Proteus, the lover and best-friend who dumps his beloved and sets his hat for his best friend’s love-interest quicker than it takes to say ‘iambic pentameter’. I’m not convinced he quite pulls it off.
The laughs are provided by Charlotte Mills as Launce and Fred Thomas as Launce’s dog, Crab. Wringing laughs from Shakespeare’s often not-very-funny clowns can be a challenge but Mills makes the put-upon Launce very accessible and so very funny.