Review by Megan Murray-Pepper.
The loved-up couples of the Korean Midsummer Night’s Dream were succeeded in week 3 of the Globe to Globe festival by the paired lovers of Two Gents Productions’ double-hander The Two Gentlemen of Verona (Vakomana Vaviri Ve Zimbabwe), ‘in fair Harare, where we lay our scene’. In a fantastically funny and creative romp through what is probably Shakespeare’s earliest (and somewhat disjointed) play, actors Denton Chikura and Tonderai Munyevu metamorphose with brio through the playing of both central pairs of lovers (Proteus and Julia, Valentine and Sylvia) as well as a host of supporting characters. The rapid shrugging on of waistcoat or glove and distinctive mannerism carries them from scene to scene and between characters in a style derived from Zimbabwean township theatre.
I’ve seen the show twice in English (in 2009); it is not just equally entertaining in this Shona translation commissioned especially for the festival, but also slicker and brimming with confidence in its exploitation of the Globe theatre space. Two Gents make wily use of the audience to flesh out the rare scenes in which they can’t quite be everyone and everywhere at once, draping handy groundlings in garments to address them in character or borrowing a shoe to stand in for an emotional family farewell (it’s a testimony to their sheer ingenuity that this is such an occasional trick). It’s a technique used to stunning effect when Valentine is apprehended by the forest outlaws to open a lightning-quick second half – the outlaws are puppets chosen from among the audience themselves.
Both Chikura and Munyevu play women brilliantly – they hit just the right note between recognisable type and human warmth, making great capital from speedy adjustments in their vocal ranges. The wooing scene between Proteus and Julia is ripe with song and with stolen kisses, while plaudits should also go to Munyevu’s expressively canine Crab and Chikura’s sassy and bootylicious version of Sylvia. Each dizzying exchange of ring or “tsamba” (letter) through this tale is worked with wit and ingenuity.
The play has a distinctly troubling final scene – like Kate’s final speech in The Taming of the Shrew or Isabella’s silence following the Duke’s proposal in Measure for Measure, a host of ambiguities surround Sylvia’s disposal between the suitors Proteus and Valentine. The threat of sexual violence and the obvious implication that male friendship trumps female volition is difficult to carry with sympathy before a modern audience. Two Gents don’t shirk this discomfort, and in a daring manoeuvre they give the final moments over exclusively to Sylvia and Julia – a painfully tender moment between women rounding off this deft, dextrous and wickedly joyful production.
The Globe to Globe festival at Shakespeare’s Globe runs until the 3rd of June.