The Two Gentlemen of Verona
The Guildford Shakespeare Company in association with the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre
Guildford University Lake
Now in their fourth year, and going from strength to strength, this company are proud to be 'site specific', which means they use every aspect of their natural open-air surroundings to full effect. Their highly successful and fun-filled The Taming of the Shrew took place earlier this year in Guildford's Castle Grounds, and this production is set by the University Lake. The setting is idyllic, but they are not content to use the lake merely as a backdrop - they perform in front of it, around it (some marathon running involved), and even on it as a departing Proteus us rowed across to the accompaniment of Noël Coward's 'Sail Away'.
Set loosely in the nineteen twenties, snatches of music of the period are played throughout, each one relevant to the action, all to my taste and no, I wasn't around then!
In this young energetic company, director Joanna Read lets nobody sit idly by while the main characters take centre stage - little bits of 'business' are constantly in progress, all adding to the fun and keeping interest high.
The story is of Proteus who loves Julia, transfers his affections to Valentine (Nicholas Agnew)'s adored Sylvia (a very fickle suitor - I wouldn't have him back) and proves himself a very false friend too before order is restored and everything ends happily.
I was very impressed with Simon Nock as Proteus. His projection and clarity of diction easily overcame the slight rumble of passing buses and clattering of trains, as well as the greater challenge of a low flying aircraft. I'm not quite sure why he carried a teddy bear about in the earlier scenes, but Brideshead re-visited came vaguely to mind.
The higher tones of the women did not fare quite so well in the wide open spaces, but nothing to complain about. Dani McCallum as Julia expertly and joyfully portrayed the anticipated sensual joys of the sexual liaison she was anticipating, making all the more heart-rending her woebegone expressions and manner when, disguised as a young man in sombre black suit, she sees her love serenading another.
Memorable performances from Alex Scott Fairley as Valentine's servant Speed, played as a rough-and-ready Cockney, and Matt Pinches uses his expressive face and body language to full effect as Launce (Proteus' servant). His discourse with the dog Crab (in this case a gentle greyhound) with even his rant at the animal complaining about his misdemeanours produced little visible reaction, although Toffee (or perhaps George) could have made more of his acting debut as most attention is, as usual, focused on the dog. I think he was more interested in a squirrel. spotted in the woods.
The gentle and gentlemanly robbers encountered in the forest have here become a group of very English cricketers (doubling up by cast members) with foliage in their boaters.
The whole show is great fun and very funny and, although the evening was a little cold (and I felt sympathy for the two in nineteen-twenties swim suited gentlemen towelling themselves briskly after a dip in the lake), they all must have warmed up with the quirkily choreographed (Greg Owen) dance to finish, and the audience departed happily smiling and to the sounds of waves lapping and the contented soft quack of ducks settling down for the night.
A truly memorable evening in a truly magical setting, and the applause could have brought the cast back for several curtain calls - but I expect their energy had at last run out!
Playing until 18th July 2009 - information and tickets from 01483-304-384 or at www.guildford-shakespeare-company.co.uk
Reviewer: Sheila Connor