There is something about taking your seat in the intimate and wondrous Elizabethan playhouse before a Shakespeare play. You are a few hundred yards away from where the master himself performed some 400 years ago.
And then the music starts—it’s 1966 and The Beatles are “bigger than Jesus.” A welcome surprise, The Two Gentlemen of Verona kicks off with a blues rock concert that makes you want to stomp your feet and clap your hands. The audience is already hooked.
The sound beautifully floats to the thatched roof where candle chandeliers hang, giving the stage an old-timey glow. Instead of cloaks and lace, the cast wears bellbottoms and bandanas. It may be a different style, but the theme of love and friendship remains the same.
Valentine (Guy Hughes) and Proteus (Dharmesh Patel) embody the young, free and fearless vibe of Shakespeare’s original characters and at the same time, the bold and thundering ‘60s. They are under the spell of love like teenagers at their first Rolling Stones’ concert.
The lovesick boys are just as giddy as modern-day mates. They clearly profess their public adorations for all to hear, but Julia (Leah Brotherhead) and Sylvia (Aruhan Galieva) are not as bold in their projections.
Even though the female leads are not always easy to hear, when they take the vintage stand-up microphone, their singing voices send electric waves through the audience. And not to forget the magnetizing moves of the Duke (Garry Cooper)—slicked-back hair, aviators and sunken cheeks like Mick Jagger—he makes you want to dance.
As one actor steps forward to recite a metaphor-filled verse of love, rivalry and betrayal, another steps back to pick up an instrument. They rattle off Shakespearean speeches and play the guitar, keyboard, harmonica and tambourine.
As Julia takes the mic for her final, Janis Joplin-esque song, her vocals seal the fate of the boys’ friendship and their pursuit of lifelong partners. The two gentlemen of Verona forgive each other, marry their first loves and successfully carry Shakespeare’s timeless tale through the 21st century.