Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Vakomana Vaviri Ve Zimbabwe (Two Gentlemen of Verona) - Contact Theatre, Manchester

Vakomana Vaviri Ve Zimbabwe (Two Gentlemen of Verona)
Writer: William Shakespeare.
Director: Arne Pohlmeier
Reviewer: Dave Cunningham

‘Two Gentlemen of Verona’ is one of Shakespeare’s earliest plays – possibly even his first. The plot provides a prototype for his later works featuring friends driven apart by jealousy and cross-dressing heroines. The two gentlemen of the title are friends Proteus and Valentine. Because Proteus is in love with Julia he remains in Verona when his friend sets off to see the world. Proteus later joins his friend only to fall in love with Silvia whom Valentine plans to marry. After many twists and turns they are joined by Julia, disguised as a man, who forces Proteus to accept that he has betrayed his friend.

The relative lack of sophistication in the play makes it suitable for radical interpretations. That is certainly what the audience gets from director Arne Pohlmeier’s production .It is not that the play is set in Zimbabwe which is audacious but rather that all 15 characters (and a dog) are played by just two Zimbabwean actors - Denton Chikura and Tonderai Monyevu – with a minimum of props and a certain number of anachronistic references. It sounds like a recipe for disaster yet this is a completely satisfying production.

A particular success is the way in which the young audience is involved by way of a number of ad-libbed modern references. Julia is introduced singing a Bangles song and David Beckham is invoked as an example of male perfection. Members of the audience are also used, puppet-like, to swell the cast when an outlaw gang is required. Throughout the show the cast pause and check whether the audience is following the plot (at one point Chikura admits he has got lost). These techniques do not pander to the audience but rather makes them participants and secures their immersion in the play so that a sexual assault towards the end draws an audible response.

Some of the supporting characters are sketchily drawn but this is as much the fault of the author as the cast. Chikura and Monvevu create vivid interpretations of the treacherous Proteus (who seems to be deceiving even himself) and the decent but increasingly desperate Valentine. We are also given tyrannical parents and mischievous servants. The verse of the play is beautifully spoken with Chikura particularly moving when, in the role of Lance, he tells of the time he accepted a beating on behalf of his dog.

Allison Drewitt’s set is wonderfully basic. The cast transform themselves using scraps of costumes arranged on a washing line across the rear of the stage. The trunk from which the costumes are taken is utilised in a variety of ways including a bath and a stage from which a lover is serenaded.

Vakomana Vaviri Ve Zimbabwe demonstrates what can be achieved in the theatre with a minimum amount of finance and a maximum level of talent and imagination.

Runs until the 18th - then on tour for more info click here
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