Thursday saw the first production of The Show Must Go Online, a series devised by Rob Myles (who Mind the Blog regulars will recognise from Merely Theatre’s Twelfth Night and his insight into Shakespeare dramaturgy) which will bring a different Shakespeare play to YouTube each week with a rotating cast of actors. It aims to provide the audience with new live theatre, whilst also allowing the performers to hone their skills and gain additional experience. The plays are due to be performed in the order it is believed they were written, so first up was The Two Gentlemen of Verona.
If you have ever perused my Shakespeare page, you will know that this is one of the now quite few Shakespeare plays that I’ve never seen on stage before – so it was very exciting to finally acquaint myself with it, even if it wasn’t performed in the most traditional fashion!
The performance was introduced by author Ben Crystal (his Springboard Shakespeare series is absolutely brilliant), who first gave thanks for this artistic endeavour, before giving a bit of insight into the play we were about to see. It is a comedy with a fairly straightforward plot, though there is a twist at the end and the whole thing could be seen as rather contentious; the overriding theme is love, whether romantic, unrequited, familial, platonic or otherwise – and there’s also a canine companion in Crab. What was the line in Shakespeare in Love? “You see: comedy. Love, and a bit with a dog. That’s what they want.”
For anyone not familiar with the play, it is the story of Valentine and Proteus – great friends, and the titular gentlemen. Valentine sets off to Milan in order to learn more of the world and invites Proteus to join him, but he has fallen in love with Julia so he decides to stay; coy at first, Julia eventually reciprocates his feelings. However, Proteus’ father packs him off to join Valentine and the couple exchange rings as tokens before parting ways. Previously immune to love, Valentine has fallen for Silvia but her father (the Duke of Milan) wants her to marry the wealthy Thurio – a further spanner is thrown into the works when Proteus arrives and instantly develops feelings for her too, prompting him to try & get first Valentine and then Thurio out of his way. Little does he know that Julia has followed him to Milan, disguised as a man and going by the name Sebastian, and has seen his attempts to woo Silvia. Will the two couples find their way back to their original paths?
Those of us watching were given the task of looking out for early ideas Shakespeare had which he would go on to recycle or reuse in later works – and there were certainly plenty to spot! There are definitely Romeo & Juliet links in there, from Proteus ditching Julia in favour of Silvia (as Romeo forgets Rosaline when he sees Juliet), to Friar Lawrence confirming Silvia’s flight on the road to Mantua. Twelfth Night also gets a look-in, as Viola emulates Julia in dressing as a boy to serve the man she loves; the name Sebastian links them further, as Viola’s presumed dead twin was called this and she dressed herself to look like him. Plus Proteus then sends Julia to woo Silvia on his behalf, later replicated by Orsino. There’s also a hint of All’s Well That Ends Well in Julia attempting to regain her love, and using some recognisable rings as final proof.
As well as testing your brain in trying to recognise these links, it was also a couple of hours of pure, unadulterated joy. By and large the technology behaved itself and worked a treat, plus the team had come up with some ingenious ways of passing props around and interacting without being in the same room (or even the same country) as one another. Julia’s note to Proteus (I LOVE THEE, FROM JULIA XXX), their exchange of rings, and their parting embrace were terrifically brought together by Lucy Aarden and Luke Barton.
Aarden’s Julia disguising herself as Sebastian with a baseball cap and drawn on facial hair, Chloe Wigmore’s running mascara as Silvia mourns the loss of Valentine, and Montgomery Sutton managing to naturally fit in pouring himself a drink as the Duke of Milan were some other great moments – as was a cameo from Aarden’s dog Bear as Crab – but Act 3 scene 2 had to be my unforgettable, laugh-out-loud moment of the night. Barton’s Proteus serenaded Silvia to Marvin Gaye’s Let’s Get It On, absolutely going for it for as long as he could get away with it; the character’s actions may have been deplorable, but the scene was played out to comic perfection.
Starting at 7pm, a short interval is included, and there’s also the opportunity for some post-show talkback and discussion. As this was the first attempt, it was particularly interesting to hear how the cast prepared for the performance and what they did to ensure they could perform their lines (it sounds like there was some incredible and unnoticeable sight-reading going on).
I think we can safely say the The Show Must Go Online has started out a roaring success, and I for one am excited to make this a regular part of my week for the foreseeable future. They now have a Patreon page, so do head there to show your appreciation for their fine work – and rewatch the production at your leisure.
Next week: The Taming of the Shrew
The Two Gentlemen of Verona was broadcast on 19 March 2020. The Show Must Go Online runs every Thursday at 7pm and is also available to watch afterwards. Become a Patron at The Show Must Go Online’s Patreon page.