The Two Gentlemen of Verona is a tale of disguises, disloyalty and, in Greg Doran’s modern-day adaptation, enthrallingly aggressive accordion. Whilst being Shakespeare’s least performed play, it truly is a spectacle to behold. 

Particularly pertinent in the programme is Doran’s address to the audience. He explains that this is the only Shakespeare play he has not directed before; this is evidently an important moment in his career. He also writes an apology to multiple of his teenage lovers, explaining that he, like Proteus, made many mistakes in his youth. As I sat waiting for the curtain to drop, I could not help but imagine that for Doran, this must be a deeply personal project.

The play follows two friends, Proteus and Valentine, played by the exceedingly charming duo Rob Wolfreys and Will Shackleton. They embark on a journey to Milan in an attempt to chase cultural enrichment, but end up diving headfirst into a tragic love quadrangle. Proteus, who whilst in Verona was smitten with Julia (Lilia Kanu), becomes enamoured with Valentine’s love, Silvia (Rosie Mahendra). Silvia’s father (Jake Robertson), however, wants her to marry the awkward Thurio (Saul Bailey). 

Before the production commenced, I realised that I had previously met Bailey at a musical soirée. He had explained the experience of hand crafting his own accordion, much to the dismay of participants at a silent meditation retreat taking place in a nearby building. You can imagine my delight when in an attempt to seduce Silvia, his character Thurio runs on stage with an accordion and proceeds to play what can only be described as the most electrifying accordion solo I have ever witnessed. 

The play’s supporting characters offer incredibly effective comic relief. Silvia’s father gives a glorious drag performance, Proteus’ servant Launce (Jo Rich) asks an audience member to get on all fours and act as a stepping stool onto the stage, and we even see Doran’s own dog star as the mischievous Crab, who earned a great deal of laughs and ‘aw’s from the audience.

The choice to set the play in the modern day was pulled off effortlessly, underscoring universal themes of betrayal and heartbreak that many young people will relate to. With delightfully playful sets that span from a Formula One racetrack to a sunlounger by the beach, Doran utilised the modern day setting to his advantage, simultaneously adding comedic effect and rendering Shakespeare’s words that little bit more digestible to his now modern audience, particularly through the amusing use of dating apps from Rich’s character, Launce. 

Despite being in the middle of their final exams, the student actors gave performances that can be described as anything but amateur. With Wolfreys’ incredibly natural full-body acting and Robertson’s hilarious line delivery, these actors worked astoundingly well together. A stand-out moment was Valentine’s fight with Proteus after realising he had been betrayed, in which Shackleton’s ability to convey intense distress was deeply moving.

The “comedy” ends with Julia and Silvia mournfully staring at each other from opposite sides of the stage. A prolonged silence ensures that we are left on a chilling note. The male characters forgive each other, their lives go back to normality. Julia is left alone, plagued by a newfound insecurity. 

This subversive choice of ending showcases the care channelled into this adaptation. For anyone in need of a good laugh, remarkable acting, and a reminder of the particular suffering of youth, this play is not one to miss. You’ll laugh, you might cry, and if you’re anything like Doran, you’ll reminisce on your youthful mistakes, past lovers, and feel a true connection to the trials of Proteus, Valentine, Julia and Silvia.