Two Gentlemen Of Verona @ Barbican Pit, London

cast list
Thiago Martins
Renan Monteiro
Roberta Rodrigues
Luis Henrique Rodriguez
Mary Sheyla de Paula
Marilia Coelho
Aldino Brito
Alexis Abraham
Sandro Mattos
Joao Andre Lima
Pedro Caetano
Diogo Sales
Renato Rocha
Mariana Oliveira
Micael Borges
Tatiana Delfina
directed by
Guti Fraga
Founded in Rio de Janeiro in 1986, Nos do Morro has worked with over 3,000 youths, giving them both formal and informal education in art and theatre, and training them in the technical aspects of creative work.

And in this production of The Two Gentlemen of Verona, originally commissioned by the RSC as a part of the Complete Works Festival in 2006, its unique style of storytelling is very much in evidence. Employing a young cast, many of whom have worked with the company for years, Shakespeares early comedy is performed in Portuguese (with surtitles) with music and dance used to convey many of the emotions.

The play, in which two brothers vie for the same womans affections within a larger love quadrangle, begins with a dance number in which the cast sing of friendship and love, accompanied by guitar, accordion and percussion. It proves an effective vehicle for bringing out many themes in the play, as well as for setting the tone and pace for the evening.

Visual tools then continue to dominate which both reinforce sections of the dialogue, and bring out points that words could never convey. So, as the brothers, Valentine and Proteus, say their goodbyes, two other actors mime the departure in the background. Without the imposition of words, they present a rawer, more sinister portrayal of the same event, in which the brothers future rivalry is clearly alluded to. This mute performance consequently captures what goes unsaid in the departure that uses dialogue. Similarly, when Valentine sees off another suitor for Sylvias affections, the scene is portrayed as a fight in a boxing ring, formed by cast members holding lengths of silk. The blows that each throw to land their opponent on the ropes, however, are not punches but the words of the text.

With several ensemble dances framing the drama, quieter music, often generated by a single instrument, was also used to support certain scenes. If this, however, might suggest that the central play was sacrificed to gimmicks my main problem was almost the opposite. In the context of this carnival-style celebration, too many elements actually felt conservative as some scenes were presented straight forwardly. Of course, variations in the pace are important, but overall we could have been whisked along even more in a visual extravaganza. Clearly, not all cast members were great dancers, but the groups strength lay in generating excitement through its ensemble pieces. It could have afforded to have played to this strength even more.

This is not, however, to undermine the quality of the acting. Even with the lines delivered in Portuguese, the sensitivity with which certain passages were delivered was tenable. Ronan Monteiro was an enigmatic Proteus, wrestling with his conscience as he balanced the dangers of pursuing his brothers love against those of living a lie if he did not. Mary Sheyla de Paula was equally effective in capturing the steely resilience in Proteus own wronged lover, Julia.

To me, whilst Two Gentlemen effectively presents characters who are not intrinsically evil but find remaining true to themselves problematic, the ending feels two-dimensional in sorting everything out so quickly and happily. With this production, however, because a jamboree atmosphere prevailed throughout, the closing scene felt in keeping with the piece as a whole. And as the cast and director bowed and made speeches the opening night being Nos do Morros 22nd birthday it was hard for their own joy not to be felt by the audience.

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