Though billed as a performance in Shona, Two Gents Productions’ Two Gentlemen of Verona begins with an English-language prologue, affectionately adapted from Shakespeare’s other Verona-set play. In just over two hours traffic of the Globe to Globe Festival stage, actors Denton Chikura and Tonderai Munyevu portray all the characters in the comedy, milking every possible laugh from the audience. With just a few costume pieces and boundless energy, the two performers made the audience forget that Two Gentlemen is not one of Shakespeare’s best works. The story is relatively simple- Proteus and Valentine, the titular gentlemen, travel to Milan where they both promptly fall in love with the same woman, Silvia. Valentine’s Veronisi girlfriend Julia follows him to a forest outside Milan where, in true Shakespearean fashion, all is put right. The problem is the play’s ending, in which Valentine effectively gives Silvia to Proteus. This production managed to smooth over the misogynistic rough edges of the English-language text, creating an ending that was truly moving.
The festival is now in its third week. I’ve been lucky enough to see half of the sixteen titles already presented under its aegis and there has yet to be a dud. Each company has brought with them their own performance styles, influenced by the societies from which they hail. Two Gentlemen dispensed with that concept; it was a performance for a pluralistic Britain. Though the actors were speaking a foreign language, they seemed British in their aesthetic. They wore Elizabethan-style costumes, adding and subtracting pieces in full view of the audience. They played with their audience, first costuming members, then convincing others to take off their shoes, and at one point even bringing three people on stage, using them as human puppets. It was an unexpectedly “Western” take which left the audience thinking that they spoke Shona.
The production suffered a bit from being slightly presentational. Whenever the actors would transition to Proteus or Valentine, they would state their names clearly, just so the audience would have no doubt who they were. While characters were remarkably specific, especially since Sylvia and the Duke were each played at different times by both actors, only Proteus, Valentine, and Julia seemed fully-realized characters. This might not have been the fault of the production, but rather the play itself. Most men are lucky if they create one masterpiece; Shakespeare wrote many- this just isn’t one of them. Nevertheless, it’s good for a laugh, and Two Gents Productions delivered.