A friend betraying another friend to get their objective, and going to the farthest distance to achieve success, turning slowly into villainy. A story of morality, from Shakespeare to our days.
This version of Shakespeare’s work, directed by Evan L. Barker, follows its sell-out previews, and has a slightly different cast in some of the supporting roles. This is an adaptation by Barker of the well-known piece, setting into a high-school context. The roles of the two gentlemen are played by Hugo Papiernik as Valentine, and Paul Surel as Proteus. The two ladies with whom they fall in love and then fight for are Tor Leijten as Julia, and Lavinia Grippa as Sylvia. Completing the cast are Harry Rosa as Lance, Izzi McCormack-John as Lucetta/Thurio, Alun Rees as Speed/Host, Gemskii as Duke/Antonio, and Bradley Luckett and Rosanna Vikberg as the two cadets.
The story revolves around the two gentlemen, who start discussing about the worth or not of love. As it becomes clear later, the worth Proteus is defending is only worth until he finds another object of his affection.
The performance of the actors is uneven, with some highlights. Papiernik and Leijten, who double as assistant directors, are remarkably connected to the sufferings of their characters, while also delivering comedic moments. Surel, in his villainous Proteus, seems to be in love with the text, and enjoys the rhythm of the words, although this love is tying him up in a steady tempo that does not break through the play. Grippa is passionate and energetic and delivers the text with great charisma. Finally, Rose makes for an enjoyable Lance, foolish but caring and loving.
The surprises, however, are in the supporting cast, with the double characters of McCormack-John, Gemskii and Rees being funny and on beat, as well as giving fresh energy to this story full of betrayal and suffering. The pair of cadets of Luckett and Vikberg is also surprisingly amusing in their very brief appearances.
The set, designed by Hana Sofia, is minimalistic, with a blackboard signalling changes of space and time in a very simple way. The music, by Rees, is entertaining and sets the mood for the school setting, aiding in the understanding of how the original story is being re-signified in this day and time. The ending is surprising, as if some masks had fallen from the faces of the actors, and the brutal reality of toxic relations and violence would have broken through the story, slapping the audience in the face.
This version of the piece offers an interesting opportunity for understanding the current relevance of texts that spoke about distant lands to talk about real problems. Funny, naïve, engaging, and full of life, this is a play that keeps growing.
Reviewer: Gonzalo Sentana
Reviewed: 28th June 2023
North West End UK Rating: