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The Two Gentlemen of Verona: Christ Church, Oxford
In a season set to see an abundance of Shakespeare in many forms, Oxford University’s Barbarian Productions is staging one of the Bard’s less frequently performed plays — The Two Gentlemen of Verona. Widely believed to be an example of Shakespeare’s earliest work, it has received underwhelming responses over the centuries. Now, however, director, Kate O’Connor, has taken up the challenge to improve the play’s reputation.
It should first be noted that the staging of the production was intended to be outdoors but unfortunately, as the English springtime would have it, rain clouds did indeed take away the “Uncertain glory of an April (May) day”. Luckily for the audience, the recent monsoons did not deter the cast and crew and the performance went ahead — indoors.
Setting the action not in its own time but in the Big Band era of the 1930s, the minds behind Barbarian Productions were not afraid to make a few tweaks to the tale along the way. Some of these alterations, the recasting of the Duke of Milan as a Duchess for example, proved fruitful in adding even more humour to Shakespeare’s comedy. The interspersing of musical numbers, on the other hand, was perhaps a little unnecessary and served as more of a confusion than a classy addition. A nod must be given for originality though — this is probably the only Shakespeare production to open with a rendition of New York, New York.
The enjoyment of the cast was visible throughout and was contagious too, as evidenced by the genuine laughter among the audience. Barney Iley-Williamson as Speed was particularly impressive and showed perfect comic timing, while Alice Fraser as Julia offered an equally convincing performance. If the intention was to offer a refreshing take on a neglected tale, then — despite the weather’s lack of co-operation — the production can be considered a success.
There are performances at 7pm until Saturday.