This series of reviews will look at ‘Globe to Globe’ productions, an extraordinary effort by London’s Globe Theatre to stage every Shakespeare play in a foreign language.
In a brilliant installment of the Globe to Globe series, a small Zimbabwean company delivers an entire production of Two Gentlemen of Verona with only two actors.
Though performed in Shona (with snippets in English), the production is more a product of London than Harare, as the company has been in exile from the Mugabe regime in London for years. This makes the production more accessible to the mostly British audience than other shows, whilst still respecting native culture. Like other shows in the Globe to Globe series, the performances are comic and fast paced, with music, laughs and quick movement to make up for the fact that the language is incomprehensible to most of the audience. The production has been seen before across the UK and internationally in English, and this fact is evident as both performers appear confident and at home on the stage.
The actors take on a male and female lead each. Denton Chikura is excellent as Valentine, and the very camp Tonderai Munyevu is a hilarious Proteus. However, it is Chikura's and Munyevu's female depictions that bring the house down. Chikura’s Julia is simply hilarious, bounding around the stage, with a feminine voice, despite being physically huge. Munyeva seems very much at home playing Silvia. Their performances are a lesson in versatility and memory. They both jump in and out of each of their lead roles and change roles so quickly not even the most minor of characters is omitted. The fact that they cover all roles (including the dog, the role Munyevu seems to enjoy the most) gains respect and admiration from the audience, but most impressive is their ability to keep everyone engaged for over two hours.
The whole production and staging is fresh, with the actors stopping every now and again to tell us we haven’t got a clue what is going on, or bursting out into Shaggy and Akon tunes as well as singing the Lion King opening at one point. The actors are not limited to the stage either, with both running amongst the yard and sitting with the audience, even dragging some members up to play the gang of outlaws which serve a pivotal role in the second half of the play.
The production uses the Globe’s old school classical costumes and contains very few props, but this fact is turned into a positive by director Arne Pohlmeier. Letters play a major role in the plot and these are read out on palms and exchanged with high fives. The single trunk which does so much in the production (as a hiding place, a vehicle, a drum) is used well and with imagination, almost becoming a third performer itself.
The Globe to Globe festival has some interesting interpretations, but it is fair to say (maybe aside from the sign language production) that Two Gentleman of Verona has been the most ambitious and keenly staged production so far. The highly-recommended production is apparently set to tour in both English and in Shona.