I was to start the review a different way and then I thought “screw it, let’s not faff about”: what I really liked about The Two Gentlemen of Verona – a Shakespeare play I hadn’t seen before and knew little about – was its unexpected feminist angle. Nominally, it’s a comedy about the vagaries of romantic love but it’s the other kinds of love that are well and truly tested: friendship, loyalty, and the love of one man for his dog. And the girls stand their ground much better than the boys. In the new RSC production directed by Simon Godwin, these qualities sparkle bright.
Valentine and Proteus grew up together in Verona and, although still close, have different aspirations: Proteus – his soul filled with romance – wants to woo Julia. Valentine – his soul filled with adventure – denounces romantic love and wants to travel. And so he goes to Milan where, as so often in life, his plans go awry, he meets Sylvia and falls madly in love. When Proteus is made to leave Verona and go to Milan, he promises Julia eternal love. But when he is reunited with Valentine and introduced to Sylvia, he himself falls infatuated, forgetting promises of love and friendship.
It feels like a young person’s play in the best possible way. All characters fumble with choices and unfamiliar feelings and the play’s pleasures come from seeing them gasp at new discoveries, in themselves and in others. Simon Godwin gives the story a modern – vaguely italian – setting but without gimmicks. He works the young angle by focusing on his four leads, who work exceptionally well together: they are all cut from the same cloth, a fresh-faced honesty and immediacy that colours each character differently but bounds them together. Whenever the four interact, there is friction of something real at stake, whether it’s the comic stumbles of love or the agony of a betrayed friendship. Continue reading