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reviews of Two Gentlemen of Verona



Cast: STUART DRAPER and LUKE LEEVES Directed by: ANTON KRAUSE; Produced by: STUART DRAPER; Costume design: VAL WILLIAMS; Set design: MARK BULLOCK; Sound and Lighting design: BONAMEDIA


by Stuart Draper


"Romeo loved Juliet. Anthony loved Cleopatra. Shakespeare loved Willy."

William Shakespeare (actor, director, playwright, poet, genius) has booked a theatre venue in South London to finally come clean about the mysterious WH of the sonnets. He hasn't banked on the fact that WH, keen for a piece of the limelight, has also turned up, eager to tell his side of the story.

Will's got the whole evening mapped out: a few readings from the sonnets, some extracts from his most famous plays, and a nice and cosy question and answer session. Couldn't be easier.

WH, however, is intent on 'outing' Shakespeare as a lazy, drunk, arrogant libertine. Funny and poignant in equal measure, To WH takes the audience through Shakespeare's life, from his first ill-fated moving with WH, to his death in Stratford. Punctuated by blues-style renditions of the sonnets from the Dark Lady herself, To WH finally bangs the nail into the coffin of Shakespeare's heterosexuality.


To WH By Helen Backway for NewsShopper

MUCH has been made of Shakespeare's sonnets and the identity of the mysterious WH, to whom some were dedicated. Melmoth theatre company tackles this subject head-on with a hilarious and bawdy take on the love story between William Shakespeare and WH, who it predicts is William Herbert, the later Earl of Pembroke.

The play opens with the Bard starting to tell the audience his story, before WH butts in with his own version. We then flit between the present day and the 16th Century, with both characters vying for attention. The upstairs of The Hobgoblin pub in Forest Hill is a great backdrop for this intimate story, holding around 40 patrons. The chemistry between the two main characters, Stuart Draper as the Bard and Luke Leeves as William Herbert, is spot on and you instantly believe in their relationship.

The show plays on the rumours about Shakespeare not writing his own plays.William Herbert, it claims, wrote classics including As You Like It, which started off as Whatever. The enduring popularity of the bard is also joked about when he says: "The day my work is studied in the classroom is the day my work dies."

Melmoth was set up to produce audacious revivals of classics and to produce challenging, entertaining theatre. To WH certainly does that.

The theme of sexual identity and the bawdy humour mirror the plot of one of Shakespeare's own plays. Behind the schoolboy humour, hides a love story and you get an idea of the difficulties of having a homo- sexual relationship in the 16th Century.

The play manages to be funny, challenging but also touching. Above all, though, it is an original and hilarious look at Shakespeare's life and loves.


UK Theatre Web:

So we have the dark laddie of the sonnets revisited - but this rambunctious imagining by Melmoth Productions skilfully weaves the poetry of the bard with gags which would not make it into a bad panto and produces a surprisingly poignant consideration of what might have been.

The play comes out with the idea that Shakespeare loved William Herbert while the Dark Lady was his beard to deflect suspicions. Then the triangle gets messy before a powerful affirmation of the men's love. Stuart Draper has written a pacy romp which interlaces a large amount of Shakespeare's writing.

Draper plays Shakespeare with gusto, delighting in the fact that, like the bard, what's the point if the playwright doesn't give himself the best parts? Alongside his clowning and wit, he shows the loneliness and despair to give a rounded character - and that's not just his belly. Luke Leeves is just handsome enough to pass as perfection in the poet's eyes. He balances the throwaway humour with disarmingly honest confrontations, totally convincing in both contemporary scenes and those from the plays. The staging used the space well, coming out into the audience and into the foyer. The actors managed scene changes well with a minimum of fuss. Costume was economically used -several gorgeous outfits seen briefly over basic jeans and 'actor shirts'.

By the way, it's funny! We see teasing affection excellently played through complex relationships, ambition, desire and disappointment. Draper says the plot is too contrived to be accepted on stage. True, it may not all be Shakespeare, but its life. Derek Benfield UKTW


Extra Extra

There has long been speculation over whom the initials W.H. in the dedication to Shakespeare's sonnets referred to. Recent research, however, points out that amongst the possibilities, was a seventeen-year old boy, William Herbert, whom the Bard tutored for a time. Young Herbert, who was, apparently, widely considered to be beautiful, is now viewed as a strong contender in arguments over whom the initials really referred to. But who was Herbert? And what did he mean to William Shakespeare?

This light-hearted romp through Shakespeare's closet begins on a cabaret note, with an amiable singer, (Maddi Black) breezing her way through one jazzy number after another addressing the foibles of love. The songs give clues of what is to come, as she wafts through standards like 'The Boy from Impenina' and 'Walk On By'' Both numbers are, more or less, about fascination with the unattainable. The selection also includes that old standby of childishly undying devotion, 'Paper Moon,' which could be said to allude to the fragility of the May - December romance between William S. and the William H., as this production proposes that the Bard fell in love with his youthful charge, who eventually became 3rd Earl of Pembroke.

In actual fact, it is strongly contested today, on the part of some researchers, that many of the 'she' pronouns in the sonnets were originally 'he', in honour of Shakespeare's devotion to Master Herbert. Many of the songs performed will not only bring back memories, but may, also raise some new questions, in conjunction with the play's storyline, about their songwriters' original intentions.

To W.H. begins on a rather flowery, hysterical note, with the late, great, but as Hamlet, admittedly hammy, Laurence Olivier typically rolling his R's in the background, as Stuart Draper, as Shakespeare, mourns the performance. That the actor has an uncanny sense of comedic timing is immediately apparent. Draper, a.k.a. Shakespeare, is able to generate laughs with, seemingly, a minimum amount of effort.

At one point, the actor inspires generous guffaws with mentions of the Guardian, lamenting the absence of the big guns with who would come to the Hobgoblin on a Thursday night?' Who indeed! Luke Leeves as William Herbert is an excellent foil to Draper's sharp wit, and appears to have all the charm and audacity of youth at his command. His recitation of some of the better-known sonnets was a treat for the mind's eye, as well as the ear. And, as I sat there, watching both actors, I found it rather amazing that they had been so convincing in the poignant WWI play, Not About Heroes only days before.

To W.H. is written mainly in modern language, so contemporary slang tends to seep through the cracks, though there are also bits of Shakespearean jargon in the mix. At one point, the singer (Maddi Black) who'd so graciously entertained the audience as they moved to their seats, stepped down from her podium, into the fray, taking up a role as a woman called Mrs. Dark, upsetting the proverbial apple-cart, by forcing her wicked ways on the object of Shakespeare's affection,

W. H. Martin Thisleton's lyrical music is well suited to this production, as it is reminiscent of Madrigals, and also, manages to incorporate some of the lines from a few of the Bard's most famous sonnets. The play's premise of (then) forbidden love between Shakespeare and W. Herbert could be seen as especially ironic, especially in light of the fact that the object of the Bard's affection, along with his brother Philip was to become known as one of 'the most Noble and Incomparable Pair of Brethren' to whom the First Folio of Shakespeare's plays was dedicated. Considering the widespread appreciation of Shakespeare's works to this day amongst the masses, that eventuality somehow makes it even more fitting that To W.H. is an enjoyable production, and a fun night out for a mere pittance.



What the critics said about Two Gentlemen of Verona:

"Pretty irresistible"
Time Out

"A Shakespearean delicacy"
Kentish Times

"the utterly fabulous, utterly hysterical, totally feelgood production of Two Gentlemen of Verona"

"A delightfully
queer finale"
Time Out, London