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Review: The Two Gentlemen of Verona at the Theatre Royal, Newcastle

One of Shakespeare's early plays proves an audience-pleaser as it gets a Theatre Royal showing for the first time in years

****
Leigh Quinn as Lucetta and Pearl Chanda as Julia in The Two Gentlemen of Verona
Leigh Quinn as Lucetta and Pearl Chanda as Julia in The Two Gentlemen of Verona

After the sober march of British history which underpins the two parts of Henry IV (Falstaff notwithstanding), this is an RSC party in a fun palace to which we’re all invited.

It is a rare production on this stage of The Two Gentlemen of Verona and one in which the dog, Crab, doesn’t steal the show.

Said show appears to have started as we take our seats. People are milling around on a Veronese piazza as a jazz trio tootles appealingly in a corner.

Audience members appear to be filing on stage to purchase food from a vendor and an actorish type with a twinkle and a handy aim is firing paper planes at ladies in the grand circle.

“Is this really a Shakespeare play with no words?” asks my 15-year-old son with the kind of half smile that suggests he has just sensed an unexpected upturn in his evening.

Er, no. The words come soon enough and briefly I worry that they seem a little garbled as Michael Marcus’s Valentine prepares to take his leave of friend Proteus, played by Mark Arends, in the piazza.

Michael Marcus as Valentine and Mark Arends as Proteus
Michael Marcus as Valentine and Mark Arends as Proteus

But in actual fact it’s the clarity of diction that helps to make this performance of Simon Godwin’s production – his first for the RSC – a real pleasure.

This was Shakespeare in his early Stephen Fry mode, rolling his tongue ostentatiously around the English language and making fun out of “tied/tide”, “tale/tail” and the like.

The plot of ‘Two Gents’ is not too labyrinthine.

Valentine’s off to study in Milan. Proteus is staying home because he’s in love with Julia. Eventually his father packs Proteus off to Milan too where he falls for Valentine’s girlfriend, Silvia, the Duke’s daughter, and puts Julia out of his mind in the cruelest fashion.

The apple of his eye has become his “swarthy wretch” in an about turn so outrageous that it earns a laugh.

If this was indeed Shakespeare’s first play, there are many hints at what was to come – the letters lost and found (Twelfth Night), the balcony scene (Romeo and Juliet) and the girl, Julia, dressing as a boy to spy on her errant boyfriend (any number of plays).

Roger Morlidge as Launce in The Two Gentlemen of Verona with Mossup who plays Crab
Roger Morlidge as Launce in The Two Gentlemen of Verona with Mossup who plays Crab
 

We also have the clownish servants, Speed and Launce, the latter equipped with an actor’s potentially best/worst prop, that dog Crab.

In this case Mossup, who earns a photo and biog alongside the human actors in the programme, behaves impeccably, allowing Roger Morlidge to relax into one of Shakespeare’s funniest and most audience-pleasing minor parts.

Pearl Chanda’s performance as Julia, progressing from hoity toity madam (in her early flirting phase) to dignified and sorrowful victim (in her jilted phase), is finely judged and Jonny Glynn’s Pacino-esque Duke of Milan makes me smile.

I also enjoy Nicholas Gerard-Martin’s lumpen Turio, whom the Duke would have his daughter marry, and his failed X-Factor routine under Silvia’s balcony.

All deserve their applause after the final bow. Even Mossup, who does not bow or even bow wow. Probably too grand. She has, after all, appeared in Legally Blonde, Casualty and The Tudors - and look out for her (and Pearl Chanda) in Mike Leigh’s eagerly-awaited new film, Mr Turner.

See The Two Gentlemen of Verona at the Theatre Royal until Saturday.

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