Two Gentlemen of Verona – reviews of 'delightful' revival

Dolce vita take on Shakespeare's rarely seen early romance has comic fizz and complexity

A dolce vita take on Shakespeare
(Image credit: Simon Annand C. RSC)

What you need to know

The RSC's revival of Shakespeare's romantic comedy Two Gentlemen of Verona, is playing at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon. Written in 1591, the romance was one of Shakespeare's earliest plays and is rarely performed.

It tells the story of Valentine and Proteus, two friends who fall for the Duke's daughter Silvia. But Proteus is already betrothed to Julia, and Valentine is not deemed a worthy love match, so the friends become rivals, and must endure trials of mistaken identity and brigands in the woods until true love and friendship are redeemed.

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Simon Godwin directs. Runs until 4 September Stratford-upon Avon, Newcastle Theatre Royal 7-11 October, and broadcast live to cinemas on 3 September 2014.

What the critics like

Godwin's lively, modern-dress staging renders this play "remarkably engaging, amusing and disquieting", says Kate Bassett in The Times. There are brilliant and unsettling transformations in a play that seeds a host of Shakespeare's later leitmotifs.

This rarely revived but "delightful" early Shakespeare "works a treat" set in modern Italy, with a dolce vita buzz of scooters, nightclubs and open-air cafes, says Charles Spencer in the Daily Telegraph. The superbly fleet-footed production has a winning comic fizz but also does justice to the play's more complex feelings and ominous dark side.

Godwin's striking production explores the light and dark sides of Shakespeare's early work in "a delightful evening", says Michael Billington in The Guardian. It also proves the play is more than a trial run for the later comedies, but exists in its own right as a study of love's metamorphoses.

What they don't like

This early work has its full share of novice flaws: "characters left onstage without lines, plot strands awkwardly woven together, and above all an effortful keenness to impress", says Ian Shuttleworth in the Financial Times. And while it's a spirited production, the modern pacing and cadences make the flowery language even less intelligible.

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