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Review: Two Gentlemen of Verona, Wharf Theatre, Devizes
Graham Billing has, through White Horse Opera, built up a reputation for making abstruse opera accessible to ordinary members of the public.
He has now turned his attention to Shakespeare and directed Two Gentlemen of Verona at the Wharf Theatre in Devizes.
Two Gents is one of the Bard's least regarded comedies and relies more than most of his works to banter that would have had them rolling in the aisles - if there were any - at the Rose and the Globe, but leaves modern audiences cold.
It takes a director of a particular talent to make this funny and Mr Billing does succeed - up to a point.
If any Wharf actor can make a Shakespearean clown funny, it is Chris Underwood. Mr Underwood applies his talents to the role of Launce and very nearly steals the show. He has an innate understanding of what is funny and is willing to take outrageous risks to bring the audience to the verge of hysteria.Time and time again the audience was driven to howls of laughter at his antics - none of which seemed forced or out of place.
I say he nearly stole the show because he appears with Floosie, Lesley Scholes' mongrel who has many stage appearances under her collar, most recently as Bill Sykes' dog in Oliver. Floosie, appearing this time as Crab, is a natural and could give masterclasses to young actors on how not to pad your part.
There are some other very fine performances in Mr Billing's production. Julia, the female lead, is another well-rounded and inventive performance from Frederica Dunstan as the poor little rich girl who struggles to get Proteus to commit to her.
Proteus is the main role, one of the two Gents with Valentine, but Kevin Smith does not get the hang of the part at all and seems, at least on the night I saw it, to be only on passing acquaintance with his lines.
Craig Fisher as Valentine fares better but still gabbles his lines. On the whole, Shakespeare's verse does not come out on top here.
Having said that, the ladies are wonderful. The scenes between Julia and her waiting woman Lucetta (Merrily Powell who also designed and decorated the Wedgwood style set) are a delight and Cassandra Smith as Silvia, wooed by most of the men in the cast, delivers an intelligent reading of her part.
Then there are Lewis Kirkpatrick as Valentine's servant Speed, Paul Snook as Valentine's love rival Thurio, Lesley Scholes as a mad hostess of an inn, Paul Myles as a barking suitor to Silvia, Eglamour, all get into the swing of the comedy with success.
All's Well That Ends Well but this is not a palpable hit.
The show runs until Saturday May 12.