August 27, 2006, by Peter Kirwan

The Two Gentlemen Of Verona (Nos do Morro/Gallery 37) @ The Courtyard Theatre

I’d been looking forward to this play as one of the more unusual productions– a Brazillian community theatre group, Nos do Morro, joining forces with a Birmingham urban youth project, Gallery 37.

It was certainly very good– a young and energetic cast really put their hearts and souls into it. The large Chorus became walls and statues around which the main action took place, Crab (a human actor) threw himself around the stage, the young Birmingham actors rapped and sang from the balconies and the whole thing was done in two hours flat.

This was a very musical adaptation, with big song and dance numbers bridging the gaps and replacing some of the dialogue– Valentine and Thurio’s sparring of wit, for example, became a sing–off in a makeshift ring. The Brazillian actors spoke Portugese while the midlanders sang in English, but the two languages meshed well and the two groups had clearly enjoyed working together.

Where this play suffered– and this is by no means their fault– was in the setting. In many ways, I would have rather seen this in the Dell, or an outdoor space, as I think it would have worked so well in the less formal atmosphere, where the actors (who interacted with the audience throughout) could have really let themselves go. On the Courtyard stage, on the set of the ‘Henry VI’ trilogy, it almost seemed to reinforce the lack of rehearsal time (the companies had known each other for thirteen days) and budget.

However, I thought this was a fantastic production, and completely stood by itself. It seems patronising to talk about, “Seeing as it’s a community group from deprived areas”, or, “considering they only had four week’s rehearsal” etc. The fact is, this was a wonderful piece in its own right and far more full of life than several considerably more well–off companies. I think the audience generally agreed, and a semi–standing ovation at the end of the performance was well–earned.

There were a few negatives– the Gallery 37 singing couldn’t be heard over the maturer voices of Nos do Morro, (even when right next to them, as I was in the front row) and some of the movement pieces, while very nice to look at, didn’t seem to have much purpose other than to look pretty, and thus served as a distraction. Also, it wasn’t advertised before the performance that the production would be in
Portugese with surtitles, which I think was what prompted a few early walkouts.

These were minor points, though. This company had come from one of the roughest shanty towns in Brazil, teamed up with a few Birmingham youths in an outreach theatre group and created something in just a couple of weeks that stood up against many of the better–funded professional productions I’ve seen recently. In the post–show talk, we watched the Birmingham teenagers express their appreciation and admiration for the Brazillians, a respect that was built despite neither group speaking the other’s language. As a community project, even for the actors, this had clearly achieved its purpose, and the audience equally enjoyed themselves.

I really hope this gets a chance to be performed outside of a formal theatre space. It was far too big for the Fringe Festival, but shared many characteristics with the CAPITAL play I saw there the other week, and I do believe it would work well in a community setting. Utterly fascinating, and I’m very glad I got the chance to see what I think is the only South American contribution to the festival.

Posted in Theatre review