REVIEW: Two Gentlemen of Verona, Royal Shakespeare Society, Theatre Royal

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IT’S Paris, the city of love. No, hang on a minute, it’s Verona.

Shakespeare’s tale of love, lust and treachery opens with the stage decked in hearts and the bustle of a Parisian-style street cafe.

The RSC has chosen a contemporary Two Gentlemen of Verona as its North East season finale, following Henry IV Parts One and Two.

I have to admit, I’m more of a fan of The Bard’s tragedies and histories than his comedies. Give me darkness and death over confusion and cross-dressing any day.

But this production managed to inject enough energy and, well, comedy, to keep me gripped for the two hours and 25 minutes of running time.

To sum up the plot, Valentine heads off to Milan to seek adventure while his best friend Proteus stays in Verona because he’s madly in love with Julia.

But Proteus’s father has other ideas, and packs him off to the Duke of Milan’s court. Here he falls in love with the Duke’s daughter Silvia.

One slight snag is Valentine has already fallen for Silvia, and she for him. Proteus’s infatuation drives him to betray his friend, seeing him banished by the Duke.

A heartbroken Julia later turns up, dressed as a boy, and seeks employment as Proteus’s servant to thwart his plans to court Silvia.

Meanwhile Valentine gets himself elected as leader of a band of outlaws in the wilderness.

A few twists of fate and a smidgen of counter-plotting later, and all’s well that ends well.

The production team certainly deserve plaudits for their setting and stage design, but what makes this work so well is the performances.

The secret of comedy is, of course, timing, and the actors here deliver their lines her perfectly.

Mark Arends and Michael Marcus are masterful as Proteus and Valentine, with Pearl Chanda and Sarah MacRae matching them admirably as their loves.

But, as with Henry IV, the quality of acting in the smaller roles is equally excellent.

Servants in need of special mention are Martin Bassindale as Speed and Leigh Quinn as Lucetta, and the production – particularly its comic aspect – would be much the poorer without them.

One final mention should go to the endearing Mossup the lurcher, who plays the Crab the dog.

His part in the production was perhaps a little over-sold, but induced much cooing from the audience and was a pleasing addition to an already excellent package.

•Two Gentlemen of Verona runs until Saturday October 11.