Our second year Shakespeare module had a change in its reading list this year when LJMU English lecturer Rebecca Bailey discovered that the Everyman was collaborating with Shakespeare’s Globe on an October production of The Two Gentlemen of Verona. On Monday night over 50 students and staff from the department attended the show, which styles Verona as what director Nick Bagnall calls the ‘cardigan clad world‘ of the swinging Sixties.
The following day, Bagnall, whom the Guardian called ‘the most mind-altering of Shakespearean directors‘ and Emma Whiteley, the Everyman’s Learning Manager, came along to the module for a Q&A. Shakespeare students made the most of this opportunity with a range of questions. Many were fascinated with the music – a major facet of the production – asking how it had been composed, how it was used to separate the play’s different ‘spaces’ (Verona, Milan and the forest), and how on earth the cast members were so talented that they all acted, danced, sang and played instruments. A number of students were keen to find out more about possible careers in the theatre. There were some great questions too about the play’s ending. On reading the play, our students had been troubled by a supposedly ‘comic’ ending in which the character of Silvia very narrowly escapes rape. Nick’s production really emphasises the difficulty of this, as well as the way in which the play’s female voices are silenced – one student said she thought the ending was ‘shattering’ . Though full of laughs, the Everyman’s production makes Two Gentlemen a problem play – this was agreed to be one of its strengths.
The final question asked Nick to describe his greatest (professional) mistakes. Despite this, we’re hoping that the Everyman will be back to visit us next year, and are ready to rework our Shakespeare reading list so that once again LJMU English students can have the experience of reading, then seeing, then discussing one of their set texts with the lovely people who make theatre just across the road.
Below are a few of our favourite assessments of the trip:
I am so grateful for how well the English department treats us. I loved the opportunity to meet Nick and I found him really interesting and inspiring.
I’d never been to the Everyman before, and this was an amazing performance to start with!
I thought the play was a really refreshing take on Shakespeare. I particularly enjoyed the use of music throughout, this made the play really engaging and upbeat. The creativity shown through the production was brilliant, and I think the director did a fantastic job of presenting Shakespeare in a more accessible form, to appeal to a wider range of audience. The Q&A session was also really interesting, as he discussed how it all came about and the many steps you have to take before producing the final product.
The performance was very powerful, and having it set in 1966 with that year’s music helped to connect you with the play. The ending was the major talking point among my friends and I. Having the opportunity to talk with the director was very informative and interesting. I feel privileged to have had the opportunity!