"If you were sitting on a sinking ship and had to use Shakespeare as ballast, there are one or two plays you could jettison without them really being missed." You can't help but think Corin Redgrave had Two Gentlemen of Verona in mind when he spoke thus, earlier this year. Infrequently revived, Two Gentlemen was last staged at Stratford in 1998 in a production by Edward Hall. That outing, unusually for Hall, failed to impress the critics.
Happily, Fiona Buffini fares better, thanks in the main to a masterstroke in transposing the action of the play from Milan to 1930s New York, thereby investing this slight, tediously-punning piece of juvenilia with vigour and drive.
Street scenes in which drunken sailors, newspaper vendors and paparazzi rub shoulders with the rich and beautiful punctuate the play possibly, it is said, Shakespeare's first. Imperial Milan becomes Madison Avenue (Buffini the empire slayer?). Scions of the Rockerfellers, Carnegies, Lindsay Hop, quaff cocktails and rag one another to a peppy jazz score by Conor Linehan.
These scenes, in which a band starts up and the well-to-do swing shoes at the first opportunity help invest this lexically-logged play with pizzazz, something which was found distinctly lacking in the last outing here, less the fault of the director you may feel than its callow and finding-his-way author.
All the Shakespearean staples are present and correct in this comedy of friendship and love lost and found; the cross-dressing heroine, the flight from the city into the wilderness - pace A Midsummer Night's Dream, As You Like It - and a relentless passion for punning which soon becomes punishing.
There are some very enjoyable performances from a crisp cast including Rachel Pickup as Sylvia, a fragrant flapper, and Christopher Saul as her bullishly suave father, the Duke of Milan. Andrew Melville offers a marvellously droll Launce, a sort of even more downbeat Milo O'Shea, and Zubin Varla is great fun as Thurio.
Laurence Mitchell as Proteus, one of the two gentlemen is less protean than vocally monotonous. Alex Avery, by contrast, carries the day as a charming and ardent Valentine. Overall then, a bright and engaging production of a particularly slight Shakespearean outing.