Left – Tonderai Munyebvu and Denton Chikura in The Two Gentlemen of Verona
The Street Theatre has brought to Canberra two of the cleverest interpreters of Shakespeare’s work who ever trotted the globe. Two Gents Productions hails from London, and are being hailed the world over for their intense physical rendering of The Two Gentlemen of Verona and Hamlet, which play in repertory this week at The Street Theatre.
For The Two Gentlemen of Verona the two performers, Denton Chikura and Tonderai Munyebvu, change between characters using the convention of a single costume piece to indicate each character. In the early stages they also call the name of the character as they take on this piece, and the custom is charming, and breaks down some of the nervousness about being able to follow such a pared down rendering of Shakespeare’s play. The performances, almost surprisingly, were absolutely stunning. For these performers to change so often between characters but maintain focus and take on both the physicality and the emotive characteristics of each so distinctly is the mark of true actors.
Kupenga Kwa Hamlet takes a different approach to the performer’s change of character. The characters are introduced by name, but they are associated with a gesture that later establishes the character. These gestures are a much more effective manner of changing characters, as they allow an instant alteration that doesn’t interrupt the flow of the action.
The Hamlet depicted is one of the gentlest I’ve ever encountered, and yet the performance communicates his angst consistently and with absolute clarity. The rendition of Hamlet’s “get thee to a nunnery” is delightfully loving, gentle and aggressive all at once. If there is a fault, it lies with the depiction of Laertes, who is a rather complex plot device, but here seems to lose his raison d’être and vanish rather too completely until he is required to complete his service. The end of Kupenga Kwa Hamlet is thus all too abrupt, bringing the whole to a grinding halt when it should deliver a rather more agonising horror.
With two actors depicting casts of around five true characters and other cameo roles, audience participation is a big help. It begins earlier in The Two Gentlemen of Verona with the coy Julia being identified in the auditorium, and of course the unsuspecting audient was very successful at playing coy! The audience involvement increases through the performance, though less so in Kupenga Kwa Hamlet, and it is cleverly woven into the fabric of the play, so that it really doesn’t come across as gimmicky, but as genuinely central to the show.
The sense of journey was absolutely palpable in both plays. In The Two Gentlemen of Verona this is not just thematically appropriate, but creates an intense bond between audience and actors. Chikura and Munyebvu’s commitment to not just getting the story told, but to taking the audience along for the ride made for an experience that felt genuinely communal, and even a solo audient like me felt genuinely part of a very special experience. This is far too rare in theatre; it is an artform that should bring people together more than it does, and these Two Gents should be commended for achieving it so well and with such incredible humour.
The talented duo brought their many characters to life with great pathos. It is remarkable how they are able to maintain this incredibly energetic narrative style, multiple characters and audience participation that is at once responsive to the audience’s offers and also loyal to their role as storytellers. They generate surprisingly delicate pathos in the key characters and hold the attention on many levels at once. The subtleties of their characterisation contrast marvellously with the uproarious comedy of the whole, and these moments are introduced sensitively so that you take the journey from the humour of the performance to the pathos of the moment without quite noticing that you’ve travelled anywhere until you arrive.
These are two of the most warm, inviting, and genuinely engaging renderings of any of Shakespeare’s works I’ve had the fortune to encounter. I think I may have to follow these Two Gents back to Europe.
Two Gents Productions presents
Two Gentlemen of Verona and Kupenga Kwa Hamlet
Perth Feb 26 – March 2, 2013
Wollongong March 5 – 9, 2013
Parramatta March 12 – 16, 2013
Canberra March 19 – 23, 2013
Further details: www.twogentsproductions.com/shows