Friday, 17 October 2008

*** the two gentlemen of verona (nos do morro)

The Two Gentlemen of Verona

Nós do Morro

The Pit

The Barbican brings the Brazilian theatre company Nós do Morro to London for the first time with its production of Shakespeare’s comedy The Two Gentlemen of Verona directed by Gutti Fraga. The production was originally commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company as part of the Complete Works festival in 2006 where it received a one-off performance following collaboration with Cicely Berry and now comes to the capital for 11 performances. Switching effortlessly from comic to serious, the energetic young company infuse the text with song, movement and capoeira in a beautifully uncomplicated production. Location and mood are indicated through the use of the actors’ bodies and simple props take on a life of their own. The Two Gentlemen of Verona is performed in Portuguese with English surtitles. It is presented in association with People’s Palace Projects.

Nós do Morro (Portuguese for ‘us from the hillside’) was founded in 1986 by Fraga and is based in Vidigal, one of the toughest favelas in Rio de Janeiro. It provides young people from this disadvantaged community an opportunity to experience culture, art and citizenship through the theatre and visual arts. The company has achieved significant public recognition, won several awards and now runs a theatre and cultural centre. It aims to provide training in technical skills and creative work for theatre and cinema and many of its actors have appeared in TV series, soap operas and films including the 2002 award-winning City Of God.
Coinciding with the Barbican run of The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Nós do Morro and Theatre Centre present an adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Tempest entitled Knock Against My Heart written by Oladipo Agboluaje and directed by Michael Judge. Knock Against My Heart tours the UK from 18 September – 20 November including a run at the Unicorn Theatre from 7 – 18 October.

What a wonderful joyous funny warm experience was this!

The lights come up in one corner from a blackout to show a tightly clustered group of young performers singing - and instantly we know we are in the company of troubadour players about to make a show for us with just themselves, a few instruments and some motley scraps of cloth they will use for costumes and the many letters that feature through Shakespeare's story. This is his first play and - as with Chekhov's Ivanov - it's great to be able to see so many of the characters and ideas he will recreate again in his later plays: Julia who dresses as man - brilliantly achieved and utterly convincing as a disguise with a stretch of cloth over one eye so attention is grabbed by the disability rather than a sense of recognition - and heads off from Verona to Milan to teach her man how to love (As You Like It); there are balcony scenes (Romeo & Juliet), Julia lists her suitors for her maid to strip of their vanities with gleeful cruelty (The Merchant of Venice), and her initial dismissal of Proteus reminds of Kate and Beatrice; there's a there is even a Friar Laurence.

It is somehow an easy step to accept these young performers as the young lovers – they convey a freshness and vitality that exactly suits Shakespeare’s characters. And something i have never before seen so effectively achieved is the way all the performers step instantly in and away from their characters, so that even those playing leads manage to completely lose every hint of their characters to meld seamlessly into the ensemble. So I found I was even searching for actors who seemed to have disappeared in the chorus scenes, and conversely people I had barely noticed before would suddenly emerge as apparently unmissable large and dynamic presences when they stepped into an individual role.

The staging uses a variety of disciplined simplicity: performers bond together to make human architecture and furniture - seats, walls, doors, headless busts, a balcony, and a dangerous forest is conjured with lighting, a smoke machine and another length of cloth. We get a mimed slow motion duel or contest in the early scenes while Valentine & Proteus are all devoted and true friendship forever more that physically lays out everything the story of these two young Veronese gentlemen will unfold. And we get live music - instrumental and singing - to both move the story on, take us too new places (memorably from Verona to Milan), and to underscore or change the mood.

From start to finish this show vibrates with spirit and exuberance so you feel swept along and caught inside the performers’ zest and drive to bring their story, and yet for all their youthful energy there is nothing amateurish or unfinished and the moments of poignancy and realisation arrive with a crystalline focus that is deeply moving and utterly true. And then just as seamlessly the moment is gone, moved on and we are delighted and laughing again or surfing the story or beaming off the radiant music and movement.
And one more jewel I have to record for permanent remembrance: the performance of the dog is everything this show has encapsulated: truth, humour, discipline, spirit, delight, poignancy, immense fun and quiet understated sadness. Brilliant!
It ends with a final bright song, through which the players take their smiling bows, and then they again converge into their tight and tightly lit ensemble spot - all individuality again extinguished. Blackout and they are gone.

And i'm still glowing from the experience they made for us.

1 comment:

mark trezona said...

from colin ~
I not only enjoyed seeing 2 Gentlemen of Verona at the Barbican last night but I feel that I have learnt something about going to the theatre in general. Most plays one sees were written in the language in which they are performed, or if translated, are accepted as being part of our culture but seeing this production of a play written in English, 400 years ago performed in Portuguese by a group recruited from a slum area in Rio, that does not share our culture or hardly at all, throws light on the whole act of going to the theatre and of what one should expect of it .In Shakespeare, however bad the production there is always the language to fall back but in this case even that prop was denied.. The charm of this piece was the freshness with which the original was presented. It said just as much about the company and their culture than about the play itself. But isn't this what going to the theatre should be about???? There is the play and there is the way that it is produced. What going to see this play has brought home to me is the importance in any play of the way the original is produced. Too often one goes with a preconceived idea of what to expect. This was an example of being totally taken unawares. How refreshing! but also a lesson in what going to any theatre, anywhere, should be about...