The second offering of the Open Air Theatre
in London’s Regent’s Park is a delightful rendering of Shakespeare’s
early comedy “The Two Gentlemen of Verona.”
Director Rachel Kavanaugh sets the play in the late eighteenth
century Regency period and brings a light touch overall to the
giddy goings on, which concern two couples in love and their adventures
once forcibly parted. Friendship vs. love is a theme that will
turn up again in “The Merchant of Venice,” and elements of the
plot like the woman disguised as a man will appear in “Twelfth
Night” and “As You Like It,” along with the clever servant.
While the four lovers themselves are fairly
stereotypical, like the pair in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” (in
repertory at the Open Air Theatre), the most interestingly drawn
is the inconstant Proteus, named for the shape-changing sea god,
well played by Nick Fletcher. Once he sees Sylvia (Issy
van Randwyck), his fidelity vanishes, both to his love Julia (Phillipa
Peak) and to his friend Valentine (Nicholas Burns). Manipulative
and plotting, he bustles about, almost like an embryo Richard
III (suitably booed by the audience) betraying Valentine and arranging
his banishment, replacing him in wooing Sylvia, and nearly raping
her when she spurns him.
Ms. Kavanaugh’s direction maintains throughout
the soufflé plot; avoiding any heavy-handed touch that would deflate
it. What to do with the band of outlaws banished Valentine
joins? Turn him into a swashbuckler defending himself in
a fast-moving, expert dueling scene in which he defeats some five
or six outlaws, themselves an inept band out of The Pirates of
Penzance. (One even stabs himself by mistake in this scene).
Place the characters in Paul Farnsworth’s appealing, romantic
costumes of the period, the men in ankle-length, side pleated
coats and boots, the women like china shepherdesses. The handsome
men’s attire helps Julia’s disguise, and a nice touch is that
her costume echoes Proteus’s cream-colored one.
Add many inventive touches that support
the text but never overwhelm it, like Julia’s letter-tearing scene
early in the play. To impress her down-to-earth maidservant
Lucetta (Victoria Woodward), she has torn up Proteus’s love letter,
but once alone, addressing the words in pieces, she chastises
herself as “unkind,” kicking away and stamping on his words “kind
And very important: cast two experts as the
men’s servants, Speed (John Hodgkinson) and Launce (Ian Talbot),
who carry the comedy. The former is the witty servant, describing
the way a traditional lover looks – sighing and fasting and lonely
and disheveled – a reference that Rosalind uses in “As You Like
It” to disparage Orlando – that is seen in Hamlet as well.
Launce is the slower witted, and his catalog of virtues of his
beloved parallels the men’s flowery outbursts of love to their
Most important: Have a good dog play the role
of Launce’s companion, Crabbe. Ms. Kavanaugh’s own dog Josie
shines in this part, as well trained as the other actors.
She sits on cue, looks at the speakers in turn, accepts Launce’s
chiding meekly, and wears her ribbon jauntily when she becomes
a substitute gift to Sylvia.
This is as fine a production of “The Two Gentlemen
of Verona” as you will ever hope to see, and it provides a thoroughly
enjoyable evening or afternoon out among the trees and flowers
of Regent’s Park at their most beautiful.