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The Two Gentlemen of Verona review at Brighton Open Air Theatre – ‘energetic and very funny’

Nick Bagnall’s production of The Two Gentlemen of Verona at Brighton Open Air Theatre. Photo: Gary Calton

Director Nick Bagnall’s decision to set this touring production of The Two Gentlemen of Verona in 1966 gives him a striking musical and visual palette to work with – one which he, composer James Fortune and designer Katie Sykes use to great effect.

The beiges of easy-listening Verona contrast against the bright modernity of Milan, the Outlaws are reimagined as a hippy band, and the compact set – featuring ladders which the cast scramble up and down with admirable athleticism – is straight from 1960s Top of the Pops.

As the titular gentlemen, Guy Hughes and Dharmesh Patel are engaging, both played with a nerdiness that is heavily milked for laughs. Aruhan Galieva’s Sylvia is an attractive combination of aloof and vulnerable, while Leah Brotherhead does well with the thankless role of Julia. The rest of the talented cast – most of whom (like the leads) do double duty as musicians and singers – provide fine support, particularly Amber James, whose puffed up Thurio and earthy Lucetta are a delight.

The first half sags a little – tighter direction would have worked better to combat the distractions of an outdoor staging – but, pleasingly, Bagnall doesn’t shy away from the challenges of the text. The problematic ending is handled particularly well: Sylvia lying discarded on stage as the man she loves makes peace with her would-be rapist. The finale is her and Julia singing a lament that is part sadness, part defiance, suggesting that the solidarity of wronged women is a stronger bond than the shallow, shifting friendship of the men.

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Energetic and often very funny 1960s-set Shakespeare that uses period trappings well