The Two Gentlemen of Verona (Northampton)
As a critic, the impulse is always to encourage, welcome and enthuse about bold new voices, strikingly fresh images and exciting raw talent.
But when you know the production on offer just doesn’t quite cut it, there’s an equal duty to the audiences to reveal exactly what’s in store from the brave, misfiring show that’s on offer.
RashDash is a performance-art collaboration (of two) dedicated to making work “about now, and about the things that matter to us”. Quite how that fits with working alongside director Matthew Dunster and the Royal & Derngate to create a proscenium-arch, surprisingly conventional production of The Two Gents is never quite explained.
It’s almost as if Abbi Greenland and Helen Goalen – the two collaborators concerned – have set out to be as provocative, challenging and “now” as they can, and Shakespeare’s early comedy is simply a means to that end.
Thus we get a stylistically ultra-modern interpretation full of techno music, swearing guitar bands and swaggering lads and ladettes, complete with such would-be shock moments as Silvia being stripped to her underwear as a catwalk model and the clown Launce (transformed into an Essex girl) peeing into a paper cup. So far, so student production.
But in the second half, it feels as though the efforts to be radical have run out of steam and the creators have been forced back onto that old-fashioned notion of performing the text. The result is much more effective without the sound and fury of the theatrical pyrotechnics, which do nothing to aid the storytelling and appear designed to render Shakespeare “accessible” – that horrendously PC word whose subtext usually means that the director doesn’t have faith in the play.
Joe Doyle and Alexander Cobb as the eponymous Two Gents are actually rather good when they’re allowed to act, although the RashDash name above the title means that Greenland and Goalen claim the lion’s share of the credit, as well as the closing song. Still, what did Shakespeare know about modern women anyway?
With the showy glitz of its thin concept stripped away, there may be raw talent in evidence in this production. But the voices are hardly new, and the images far from fresh enough, to allow a full-blown enthuse from this critic, at least.