Perfomance: The Two Gentlemen of Verona
Performance Type: Play/Musical
Location: Liverpool Everyman Theatre
Date: 29th October 2016
Rating: 3 Stars
Over the past few months I have been enjoying and immersing myself in the world of live theatre and performance. I’ve been to see plays, concerts, and musicals, and really enjoyed the variety of shows I have watched. So, after reviewing just one of these (The Killers Wonderful Wonderful Tour Date which can be viewed here), I have decided to review each theatre trip individually. And because we all like an alliterative title, I’m going to call it ‘Theatre on Thursday’.
This week’s review is of a show that I actually saw quite some time ago. When Emma first moved in, she told me all about a show she had seen in Oxford when visiting friends, and as she had really enjoyed it, she asked if I would like to go and see it when it showed at the Liverpool Everyman theatre. The problem? It was Shakespeare’s Two Gentleman of Verona, and I am not usually the biggest fan of anything Shakespeare. It was a modern adaptation, and Emma had rated it highly, so I decided that I would give it a go.
The Liverpool Everyman is an intimate theatre in the heart of Liverpool city centre. There is no fancy stage, it’s simply the floor of the room, the front row almost spilling into the performance area. It seats just 400 people, making an theatre experience there different to attending a larger venue such as the Liverpool Empire. This made me nervous. I knew that the theatre set up would mean I was close to the performers, and as someone who doesn’t usually enjoy or appreciate Shakespeare, I wasn’t sure how I would feel being so close to the action.
Two Gentlemen of Verona is one of Shakespeare’s earliest works, often cited as his first play, and is a comedy centring around two friends, their relationship as they fall in love, the foolishness that follows and the impact on their friendship. It was a modern adaptation featuring 60’s clothing and music, with Shakespearean dialogue. I had no clue about the play going into the theatre, so I had little idea whether this take on the subject matter would work.
Firstly, I have to say that the performance overall was good. I enjoyed it. I liked the music and the live instruments, I thought the clothing and the feel did fit well, and the performers were engaging and made the production entertaining. When it was over, I genuinely thought that maybe my past dislike of Shakespeare (however irrational) may well be based on seeing the wrong plays, or bad performances.
There were, however, some issues that did hamper the enjoyment. I think they all stemmed from my complete lack of understanding or appreciation of Shakespeare as a whole, and if I am being honest, some of the issues I had were fixed by Emma as we went through.
I watched the entire performance pre-interval, enjoying the show and not following at all. I didn’t actually realise just how many female actors there were performing, had I realised there was more than one female character, then I probably would have had a higher overall understanding, but I didn’t realise which meant that the story being told was going straight over my head. I realise now that this is incredibly stupid and that it was my issue not theirs, but it changed my entire understanding of the play. I also didn’t realise when the play ended. The first half was much longer than the second, the placement of the intermission fitting with the play’s progression rather than splitting the time equally. No issue there at all, just a matter of fact. So, when a song ended and the lights dimmed a little, everyone else started to clap, a few people stood, and I had literally no clue that the play had finished and missed the majority of the ovation.
I know these complaints probably seem silly and trivial, but, they show clearly how little I followed the play. I realise that a good play works on a multitude of levels, and that the things I couldn’t follow make me look stupid, but my complete lack of understanding meant that I didn’t follow the story and couldn’t have told you anything about the play after other than I enjoyed the way it was portrayed and that the music was a welcome departure from any other Shakespeare play I have seen.
I don’t want to bad mouth what was a good performance, because this and Tom Hiddleston’s turn in Coriolanus that I saw via NT Live have really restored my faith in watching adaptations of Shakespeare live. I couldn’t give it higher than 3/5 stars, because I didn’t understand or follow it, so I definitely can’t say that it was amazing, but I enjoyed a different take on Shakespeare as I’ve always imagined it.