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August, 2003
Review: Two Gentlemen of Verona
Two Gentlemen of Verona
Two Gentlemen of Verona.
Vanessa Cuddeford went to the magical Wadham College gardens to review Two Gentlemen of Verona.

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Two Gentlemen of Verona is playing at Wadham College Gardens in Oxford until Saturday August 30.

It takes a brave person to criticise the Bard, and I'm not that audacious. However "The Two Gentlemen of Verona" is not any easy play to perform.

It is essentially a comic tale of romance. However, underlying the story run themes of deceit, betrayal and infidelity.

The scene where Proteus' attempted rape of Sylvia is so easily forgiven by his wronged friend, Sylvia's lover - Valentine - was particularly challenging for me.

Shakespeare gives us little insight into the motivation and emotions of the characters.

With this in mind, the latest production by The Oxford Shakespeare Company rose to the challenge in what was to my mind the best way possible; by camping it up.

From the outset, one got the feeling that there was a tongue stuck firmly in the collective cast's cheek.

The costumes were suitably outrageous (pinstripe suits and dark glasses) and the faux Italian accents were appropriately thick.

The use of scenery was equally ironic. What can only be described as a big sheet with the words "Cafe de Milano" was used to alert the audience to the shift in context from Verona to Milan; while clever use of strobe lighting in the scene when Sylvia runs away to find Valentine, hotly pursued by her father and his party, served as an hilarious parody of chase scenes seen on the silver screen in the 1920s.

There is a fine line between irony and just plain "hammy", and generally the production remained on the right side throughout.

Only once or twice did the subtly fail, some of the gestures of Launce's dog were, I thought, executed for a cheap laugh, and some of the
ad-libbing, particularly in the opening scene, felt a little incongurous.

This was, however, counterbalanced by a couple of particularly choice moments including a novel and jazzy ode to Sylvia performed by Thurio and his musicians in Act IV and a vivd description by Launce of his departure from Verona illustrated with the aid of his shoes, hat and staff; and complete with audience participation (you have been warned!)

In summary, a difficult play performed in a novel, funny and extremely accessible way by a group of universally talented actors.

All this in the beautiful and informal setting of Wadham College gardens, the perfect location in which to savour a summer serving of Shakespeare "al gusto Italiano".

However should that balmy Italian weather not quite make it across the Channel, do remember to pack that most English of summer accessories - the brolly!

By Vanessa Cuddeford

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