THE TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA Oxford Playhouse Credit Geraint Lewis

More than a youthful romp in Shakespeare’s corpus, Gregory Doran’s production of The Two Gentlemen of Verona breathes new life into the early Elizabethan comedy.

Doran, after 35 years as artistic director of the RSC, has returned to Oxford as Visiting Professor of Contemporary Theatre at St Catherine’s College and, until now, The Two Gentlemen of Verona was the only Shakespeare text he had yet to direct.


An undeniably superb addition to his magnificent portfolio, Doran’s adaption features sequins, an original score, a real dog and drag cabaret, amid the more recognisable themes of mistaken identity, unrequited love, a tyrannical father and a quartet of young lovers.

Entirely apt for a student cast, it follows a collection of young people venturing into the world, making mistakes, falling in love with people they shouldn’t, and forcibly facing the consequences.

THE TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA Oxford Playhouse Credit Geraint Lewis

This youthful element provides the key to unlocking this somewhat overlooked Shakespearean text with the Doc Marten-clad Proteus (played by Rob Wolfreys) as the perfectly awkward but spirited young lover, while his best friend turned romantic enemy Valentine is brought to life by the talented Will Shackleton, who brings a maturity and sincerity to the part.

Set in modern Milan, The Two Gentlemen of Verona tours through Grand Prix racecourses, the Duke’s pool and even a lowly bus station where Proteus and his former love Julia (Lilia Kanu) say their farewells.


Valentine has fallen in love with the duke’s daughter, Silvia (played with composure and grace by Rosie Mahendra), but when Proteus arrives in Milan, he forgets his young lover Julia and too falls for the radiant Silvia.

The talent of this cast is nothing short of remarkable. Jake Robertson playing the duke of Milan in dazzling sequins and delivering a show-stopping drag performance that leaves an indelible mark.


Another triumphant performance came from Launce, Proteus’ hapless servant (Jo Rich). Rich embodies Shakespeare’s knack for providing even the minor characters with a life and depth of their own, although it was hard for him not to be upstaged by his sidekick ‘Crab’, a cockapoo playing the role of Launce’s mutt!

The evening is a raucous one filled with laughter, sorrow and recognition, young love, enhanced by a live orchestra performing a wholly student-composed score.


Exuberant and refreshingly enthusiastic, the young cast of Oxford students perfectly mirror the timeless relevance and joviality of Shakespeare’s text, and its story of betrayal, heartache, and the tantalising promise of true love.

The Two Gentlemen of Verona is on at Oxford Playhouse until tonight (May 18) so get your tickets now. A must-see, if not for the exceptional tour-de-force of young acting talent, then at least for the delightful performance of the charming cockapoo!

Isabel Raper