The Two Gentlemen of Verona
“A wall of blue slatted doors rises up like an inhabited cliff-face at the rear of the carpetted but otherwise bare stage. The larger doors will open and party guests dash on holding glitter-wrapped gifts for Julia; when the affianced Proteus has left her for Milan, a low door opens to reveal his hotel room’s minibar; and way at the top of the cliff Silvia will be serenaded with song at her tower window.”
Jeremy Kingston, The Times
Although this wasn’t my debute at the RSC, it was my first production there with Edward Hall after having started working on the Shakespeare productions that gave birth to the Propeller Theatre company. The Two Gentlemen of Verona, has a tricky construction – it looks and feels like an author’s early play. We worked backwards from the point at which Proteus is finds himself in a wilderness, so I made a shuttered wall upstage of the thrust that could blast open and designed a floor that could be swallowed up by the Swan’s platform stage. The story is a bit of a road movie, chopping from location to location, interiors and exteriors so we made a peepshow of the shutters, revealing images that hinted at the next chapter in two young guy’s bid for freedom. It felt sultry, electric and nocturnal, so the environment was dyed and stained a vibrant ‘Yves Klein blue’.
Photos by Donald Cooper
The costumes were collaged from contemporary couture collections which, in the late 1990s had a hint of Edwardian grandure (unintended on my part) that confused the odd critic or two. Of course, the dog stole the show – in our case a wonderfully deadpan wolfhound called Cassie. Shakespeare’s mischievous inclusion of a live animal grounds the production and makes the experience inescapably ‘live’: the Swan’s intimacy was the perfect theatre for the play. I redesigned the set for the Barbican Pit to accommodate the much lower height and underground par park feel that space has – the shutters there were fabricated from aluminum and left raw.
For more about the design and contextual analysis, read about it along with my storyboard image in Oxford World Classics edition of The Two Gentlemen of Verona edited by Roger Warren.