THEATRE REVIEW: The Two Gentleman of Verona
The Two Gentleman of Verona
Review by Jeremy Thompson
In the picturesque, but sometimes-hazardous Roma Street Parklands, we sit and wait for Shakespeare. Or, more precisely, we wait for Rob Pensalfini’s Shakespeare to push through the saloon doors, his cowboy spurs clacking. Pensalfini (artistic director of Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble and director of this show) decided early on that to produce The Two Gentleman of Verona meant finding a setting appropriate to its madcap rhythm. He discovered this in the modern Western genre.
In this regard, the set (by Timothy Wallace and Sharon O’Leary) is an elegant Western saloon with bales of hay and those oh-so familiar batwing doors. The saloon image isn’t overdone — isn’t turned into a caricature of itself — which I appreciate. But the minimal setting is perhaps too clean, too new — it doesn’t quite evoke the raw, rough quality of the Western.
This staging, however, is only part of a much larger, much harder to control theatre. How the outside world (with ambient — and sometimes not so ambient — noise) seeps into the world of the play is one of the striking joys and frustrations of performing in the Roma Street Parklands Amphitheatre. Sometimes it works so beautifully that you would swear it is divine. For example, at a tense moment (guns were drawn) fireworks explode somewhere in the distance. After a comedic moment, a couple hidden somewhere in the Parklands guffaw so loudly that it seems like they are beside me watching the show. At other times, however, the looming presence of the Parklands distracts from the show itself.
The entire cast performs solidly — no single, obvious weak link existing among them. Colin Smith aptly portrays the neurotic Proteus’s transition from idealistic romantic to treacherous, self-serving self-deceiver. Nick James captures the exaggeratedly earnest and naive Valentine. Often you have to fight the urge to run onto stage and hug him for his sheer, wide-eyed sincerity.
The standout performances, from my seat, were Pensalfini as the raucous manservant, Lance, and Claire Pearson, who played Speed, the manservant to Julia. Pearson, as the simultaneously cynical and hyperactive Speed, stole numerous scenes.
In the beginning at least, the cast at large spoke too quickly and squashed words together — opening night nerves, perhaps, but difficult for the audience member unfamiliar with much of Shakespeare’s language. As the show progressed, so did the pacing — fortunately. In addition, while Michael Croome looked the part as the disapproving, powerful sheriff of Milan, he lacked the menace appropriate to that character.
I can’t conclude this review without first applauding the music. Composed by Pensalfini and Alex Clare and performed by Pensalfini, Stephen Mackie and Jason McKell, the live music beautifully soundtracks the performance.
I keep returning to the sense of fun that Pensalfini’s directing achieves. This is the production’s crowning glory. The audience clearly sees the joy and love that Pensalfini has poured into his work, and this makes it okay that The Two Gentlemen of Verona isa Pensalfini love-in. He continually moves from the theatre stage to the band, even playing during intermission — all the while, I’m sure, never taking off his director’s hat.
Two Gentleman of Verona runs at Roma Street Parklands Amphitheatre until Sep 2. Ph: 3365 3269 / www.qldshakespeare.org
JEREMY THOMPSON took his first tentative steps as poet and writer at SpeedPoets. His work has since been published in Small Packages, Rave Magazine, Voiceworks, and Notes From The Gean.