FIFTY two years after its opening, Brownsea Open Air Theatre celebrates the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death with its first performance of one of his earliest plays, the difficult Two Gentlemen.
It sets the scene for many of its successors, with snatches of the story reappearing in many guises, and also introduces its audiences to a real anti-hero in Proteus, inviting them to suspend disbelief and forgive his appalling behaviour. Perhaps he really is a hero for the 21st century.
Two young Veronese men, friends from birth, have very different attitudes to love. Proteus is full of sighs and poems and romantic proclamations for Julia, and she for him. Valentine, on the other hand, relishes adventure and so is delighted to set sail for Milan (don’t worry too much about the geography!)
But the tables are turned in Milan, where Valentine falls in love with Silvia, whose father, the Duke, prefers the advances of the foolish old Thurio.
At the same time, Proteus’s father decides it is time for his son to leave home and discover the world, so sends him after Valentine. After a tender farewell, he leaves Julia with his ring, exchanged for hers as a token of unending love.
Fast forward to Milan, and with one glimpse of Silvia, our hero forgets Julia and plots to oust his former friend Valentine. Then there is Julia dressing as a boy, Silvia dashing off after Valentine, a forest-full of noble outlaws and everyone realising their folly at the end.
What Two Gentlemen has uniquely is a dog, Crab, faithful friend of Proteus’s comical servant Launce. What a journey for Mopel (the opening-night Crab), rescued from the Greek island of Aegina by Friends of the Strays of Greece and now a star of Brownsea Open Air Theatre. Wuf
And there is another star making her BOAT debut in Don Cherret’s production. Rachael de Courcy Beamish inhabits a marvellously comic Speed (Valentine’s servant) making the most of every moment on stage.
The cast is a mixture of familiar faces – the versatile and dependable Brian Woolton as the duplicitous Proteus, Chaz Davenport as the canine-loving Launce, Dave Clements as the thirsty Host of the Tavern, Lee Tilson as the tetchy duke – and newcomers to the magical island.
They include Kiera Taylor making a memorable debut as the plucky (and possibly very mistaken) Julia, Olivia Israel as a spirited Silvia and Denise King as Lucetta, Julia’s long suffering maid.
A clever and flexible set designed by Bob Nother, and music performed live by Courtlye Musick all added to the pervasive magic of Brownsea Island, this year enhanced not only by the obligatory peacocks, but a family of chickens who made their way onto the acting area.
Enchantment is ensured.
A handful of tickets are available for some of the remaining nights. Visit www.brownsea-theatre.co.uk