|Two Gents Productions presents Vakomana Vaviri Ve Zimbabwe or Two Gentlemen of Verona, by William Shakespeare|
Directed by Arne Pohlmeier
Performed by Denton Chikura and Tonderai Munyevu From Verona to Milan, via Harare and Bulawayo, Vakomana Vaviri Ve Zimbabwe takes one of Shakespeare’s earliest comedies and transforms it into a two-man Zimbabwean riot of love, friendship and betrayal.
Check out their website at http://www.twogentsproductions.com/shows/vakomana-vaviri-ve-zimbabwe
Our President, Frances, recently went to see this most unusual take on Two Gentlemen of Verona. She gives us her impressions below.
BTW, don’t forget it’s our AGM next Saturday – 2.00PM at the WA State Library.
Last week I attended a performance of The Two Gentlemen of Verona, which has remained vividly in my mind since. I knew, of course, that it would be rather different from other possible productions, because there were to be only two performers, both male, Denton Chikura and Tonderai Munyevu from Zimbabwe, now based in England, known appropriately as “Two Gents.”
As I drove to the New Fortune Theatre I wondered how so few would cope with thirteen or more speaking parts, three of them women, and the band of outlaws. And then, what about the dog? (Yes – one of the actors played the dog, delightfully and convincingly!) Some characters were omitted: the three servants became one, and there was no Thurio or Host. However the actors still had to portray several characters apiece, and keep them all clearly delineated in the minds of the onlookers. This they did magnificently, thanks almost entirely to their extraordinary skills, both vocal and physical; and with the help of minimal props: a length of fabric slung round the hips for Julia, a long white satin evening glove for Silvia, a cloth wound round the head for Lucetta. The minor men were identified by their various hats or a diagonal sash (this also for Julia when in disguise as a man), while Valentine had bright scarlet braces, and Proteus merely needed to flick up the back of his shirt collar and adopt his swagger.
Naturally the main focus was on the two Gentlemen. Chikura, tall and big-built, played Valentine as gentle and faithful, while Manyevu, shorter and slight, showed Proteus to be supremely self-confident, fickle and happily conscious of his own undeniable charm. As I have said, all the characters were unmistakably differentiated, by voice, speaking style, bearing, but one in particular was outstanding: Manyevu’s portrayal of Lucetta. This was no quiet lady’s maid from an urban Renaissance household, but a feisty Zimbabwean maid-of-all-work with a mind of her own, but devoted to her mistress. The female characters were all beautifully observed and subtly nuanced.
The script was radically cut, and lyrical and romantic lines were pared to the bone. This was to be a comic performance and indeed scene after scene was wildly funny. I had never realised how truly comic this play could be. Shakespeare’s own lines were kept to a minimum, and the actors improvised freely (with no attempt at blank verse!), often addressing the audience, or individual members, directly. The play was introduced with almost the suggestion of a formal prologue, to explain the plot and define the characters, with each line delivered with admirable clarity by Chikura and immediately translated into Shona by Munyeva. This was rather a shock, but as the action proceeded, the Shona language was freely incorporated into the dialogue in such a way that it mattered not the slightest that we (the onlookers) did not speak it. The actors’ body language was enough and all was perfectly clear. About half way through “Proteus” helpfully gave us a summary of the plot to date, in case we were confused, which only added to the hilarity. But in fact nobody should have been bewildered, as the two performers established and maintained their separate characterisations with confidence and subtlety. The performance was interspersed with exhilarating African-based singing and dancing, which served most effectively to intensify the emotional tone of crucial scenes.
Among the many delicious comedy sequences, several stand out. I have always enjoyed the scene of the servant Launce (though here called Speed) and his dog, Crab, and was not disappointed. Munyevu on his hands and knees “stood” panting and rolling his eyes until we were quite able to believe we saw a rather unintelligent dog there, and Chikura as Speed complained bitterly, drawing in audience members to help in providing the illustrative shoes, and the moans of his sister. Julia’s learning to walk and talk as a man, under Lucetta’s expert direction, was another delight. Silvia’s plan to flee to the forest provided possibly the funniest episode of the evening. Her admirer, Eglamour, became a taxi-driver; the cabin trunk, which throughout served as whatever furniture was needed, was set down open on the floor; and the two actors crammed in, Sir Eglamour in front as the driver, and Silvia behind. We watched as this ramshackle taxi flew like the wind over bumpy roads, round hairpin bends and over sudden humps. Again I would happily have said that I saw it!
There was a brief interval before the much shorter second half, which began with Valentine’s election as leader of the outlaws. Here there was clever use of audience members, as puppets, to provide the necessary extras. As the action moved towards the strange and potentially distressing climax of the attempted rape of Silvia by Proteus the pace slowed, and the difficulties inherent in (at least) four characters being played by two actors became apparent. The rhythm became choppy, with some unavoidable breaks as speakers changed roles. The attack itself was dealt with by a sudden freeze in the action, and silence. While accepting that it was probably the only way the two male performers could handle the scene, I was conscious of a loss of intensity. However, the hiatus served as a transition to the markedly changed mood of the conclusion. Valentine’s line: “the gift hath made me happy” was heartbreakingly ironic, as were the final phrases: “one house, one mutual happiness” as it seemed only too clear that the future for these two couples would be anything but rosy.
For me the most significant feature of this production was the glimpse of how readers or audience might respond to Shakespeare when they are almost completely removed from the context in which the plays were written. Of course we are all removed in time (400 years) and we all have varying levels of knowledge and/or understanding of Shakespeare’s social and historical setting, but these two players presented the work as it would be seen by 21st century Zimbabweans who had not left their own country.
I was happy also that this was one of the 37 plays in 37 languages which comprised “Globe to Globe” in 2012, at the Globe Theatre, and that we in Perth had a tiny glimpse of that astounding undertaking.