On the generous invitation of the Liverpool Everyman Playhouse after an insightful visit of our own, the Agent Academy cohort was whisked away for an evening to a colourful reimagining of Renaissance Italy quite unlike any other.
Nick Bagnall’s adaptation of The Two Gentlemen of Verona, one of the earliest known works of William Shakespeare, tosses out the doublets and Venetian hosen in favour of tie-dye shirts and flared jeans. No Elizabethan set-piece, this, but a groovy romp through the age of disaffected youth, resplendent with musical talent perhaps exceeding that of previous adaptations.
The story itself is straightforward, but given the sheer energy this adaptation exudes it’s a non-issue. Powerful acting from leads’ Hughes (Valentine), Patel (Proteus) and Brotherhead (Julia), not to mention a stellar – if threadbare – supporting cast drive the experience relentlessly onward. Deserving of special mentions are the multi-casted Amber James (Lucetta/Thurio), who expertly jumps between earthly lady-in-waiting and buffoonish playboy as though merely (and rather literally) changing jackets, alongside stage veteran Garry Cooper (The Duke), whose larger-than-life performance conquers the stage with a ruthless charisma.
It speaks volumes that, in an age where many modern audiences are less acquainted with Shakespearian Middle-English than those that came before, the body language, tone of voice and sheer force of charisma the actors’ possess kept this party on the edge of their seats throughout the two-hour runtime. Wonderful adaptational choices only assist this; the Outlaws taking the form of hippie-attired Woodstock-dwellers is a particular highlight, as is the clever transformation of Crab – the long-suffering canine companion of Lounce (Charlotte Mills) – into a Dylan-esque, banjo-playing panhandler (Fred Thomas).
Perhaps the most overwhelming aspect, however, is the thrillingly unexpected musical angle this production takes; though rather un-Shakespeare-like, it absolutely befits the visual style of the adaptation. The skill at which it is accomplished, too, is exceptional; the evidently multi-talented cast just as easily replicate the style of Jimi Hendrix as they do that of Laurence Olivier, tearing down whatever language barriers remain in blasts of universally-thrilling energy.
Much of the play is gracefully woven between the musical interludes that bookend many scenes, though others stand out as gems all of their own – the comedic exchange between the Duke and Valentine beneath Sylvia’s (Aruhan Galieva) tower is but one shining example, as are the boisterous antics of Lounce and his not-so-canine companion.
The tonally-shifting and oft-considered problematic ending, on the other hand, is woven with exceptional care, climaxing with an equally-contrasting score – a lamenting duet between the female leads, part funeral dirge and part cry of defiance. To say any further would only spoil things, but it will leave you grappling two very different emotions, and feeling somewhat enlightened by that.
In conclusion, The Two Gentlemen of Verona is something I’d recommend to everyone. Though the nuance of the plot may be lost on some, outmanoeuvring those of us less acquainted with the old tongue, the experience alone is something you’ll never forget; a wild surge through a unique theatrical comedy that breathes colour and life into a genre done many times over, maintaining a strong emotional connection with its audience long after they have left the venue. In short, it is a must-see.
The Two Gentlemen of Verona, directed by Nick Bagnall, runs at the Liverpool Everyman Playhouse until 29th October.
By Jack Timson