In many ways The Two Gentlemen of Verona is a testing ground for what will become Shakespeare’s toolbox: we have girl dressed as boy (a la Twelfth Night), a set of four lovers (A Midsummer Night’s Dream), and we even have a Friar Laurence (Romeo and Juliet). As a work which showcases these early ideas, there is much to be interested in on an academic level. Like most people in the audience of Director Olli Gilford’s production, I had never seen or read the play, nor did I know much about it outside of a Wikipedia entry read in a bout of ‘Shakespeare Fear’. While Gilford is aware of the play’s problems, setting them out in his director’s note, the production did not do enough to compensate for the problematic text, in spite of two standout performances.
Although the play was billed as a comedy, there seemed to be little to laugh at. The difficult ending – involving an attempted rape which ends up strengthening a male friendship – seemed somewhat hurried over. The staging at points became a bit static, with Gilford blocking scenes in similar ways throughout the play. This is not to say that there weren’t lovely moments in the production, with Miles Hurley’s love song dedicated to Sylvia, gamely accompanied by Oli Savage on cajon and Jared Liebmiller on guitar, standing out in particular.
The acting for the most part was good, with stalwarts of the St Andrews theatre community turning in performances I’d seen elsewhere: Louis Catliff, playing doggish romantic lead Valentine, demonstrated a lovely physicality, and Ellie Burke providing a watchable Julia, her upset palpable throughout Act Two. Rowan Wishart proved the adage ‘no such thing as small parts’ in her turn as Lucetta, stealing the scenes she was in. However, as alluded to, there were two performances that stood head and shoulders above the others. In four years of St Andrews theatregoing, this production provided what I will remember as my favourite comedic moment, with Eilidh MacKinnon (Launce), having been described as a ‘whoreson peasant’, giving the most wonderfully sarcastic thumbs-up I have ever seen. Similarly, it was Jared Liebmiller – in his final St Andrews performance – who was the glue that held the production together. His control of the verse throughout was striking, and a marker of his experience. This was a fitting last part for Liebmiller.
In the vein of the other Shakespeare in St Andrews productions, Two Gents allowed St Andrews audiences to see ‘New Shakespeare’. Where the two previous productions – the semi-immersive, semi-queered R&J and the all-female King Lear – took well-known plays and played with them with interesting effects, Gilford brought a relatively unknown play to St Andrews and, for this, should be applauded. Taking the three plays as a collective project, I cannot help but admire the passion and interest the productions have brought to Shakespeare in St Andrews, and hope this can be replicated in years to come.