Our third-year English student Jo Rich recently performed in a noteworthy production of The Two Gentlemen of Verona at the Oxford Playhouse.

The production was directed by Gregory Doran, former Artistic Director of the RSC and current Cameron Mackintosh Visiting Professor of Contemporary Theatre, and was an exciting first, as the only Shakespeare play Doran had yet to direct.

Indeed, Two Gentlemen is one of Shakespeare’s less performed and critically well-regarded works – but this may well change following this production! The adaptation, which received significant media attention, was set in modern Milan, and featured drag cabaret, Grand Prix racecourses, and an original score.

In what critics have called a ‘triumphant performance’, Jo Rich played the role of Launce, Proteus’ hapless servant, acting alongside his sidekick Crab, played by real-life cockapoo Rocky. We spoke with Jo following the performance to hear about his experience.

Jo at Somerville

Jo at Somerville

 

Can you tell us a little about your character, Launce, and his role within the play?

Launce’s role within the play perhaps best sums up his character…he’s irrelevant! Launce genuinely serves no impact on the plot and so he really is just there to make everyone laugh! I think this offers so much flexibility and joy to the way in which an actor might go about portraying him. Personally, I always love the real humane quality Shakespeare affords his clowns and so I wanted to lean into that as much as possible – your average Joe that cares much more about the pub and his dog than anything else!

What was the experience of working with Gregory Doran like?

Working with Greg was an absolute delight! I think ‘diligent’ would be my first port of call in choosing a word to describe his approach to directing student actors. Greg was always so careful and detailed in his consideration of the language of Shakespeare (which was inspiring in itself) but it was the way in which he helped us intertwine our own experiences into the text that really brought the whole production together.

Photograph by Geraint Lewis for the Oxford Playhouse

They say never work with children or animals… what was it like to work with the now-legendary cockapoo Rocky in his role of Crab?

Honestly – an absolute dream. Rocky and I decided to take things slow to begin with (meeting up for the odd coffee or a walk in the park) but by time the show came about we really felt inseparable. It has been a bit like going through a break-up since it all ended – but we have plans to meet up for another walk for some closure!

The Two Gentleman of Verona is one of Shakespeare’s less popular plays. What was it like to perform, and what do you think a contemporary audience might gain from watching this play in particular? How did your production’s adaption of this play make it more appealing for a contemporary audience?

I think it definitely warrants its less popular reception. There are parts that don’t feel quite polished (plot-wise) in the way in which we might expect from one of Shakespeare’s plays. But I think this has meant that a lot of the beautiful Shakespearean language it holds within has been overlooked, such as Valentine’s monologue ‘There is no music in the nightingale’ – which I, admittedly, had never appreciated properly before becoming a part of this production. I think that in placing the characters in our modern day setting we were better able to draw attention to the sheer novelty of their experiences and the subsequent intensity and beauty of language evoked. Equally it added to the humour (I hope!) as we reimagined Launce’s love interest through a Hinge profile projected onto the safety curtain. 

Photograph by Geraint Lewis for the Oxford Playhouse

As an English student, you will have studied a fair amount of Shakespeare. How does performing his work affect your engagement with the text?

It’s a complete game-changer! I am probably pretty biased but I genuinely believe actively engaging in performance should be a mandatory element in exploring Shakespeare’s dramatic works. I am not exaggerating when I say that every time I performed Launce’s monologues I found something new. Not to say that each ‘new’ thing necessarily altered my performance but it definitely transformed my ability to form my own, very personal, perception of the character as a whole – something which is so valuable in critical analysis.

You’ve just finished your finals – what next? Has this experience influenced your future plans at all?

More Acting! The plan was always to go into a career in acting (or at least attempt to) after finishing my finals. But the production has definitely helped with that! Following the show I was fortunate enough to have been approached by an agency to talk about representation! I have also been working at the Playhouse, helping out with their production ‘Story Seekers’ (any excuse to see Rocky!). The next show I’m acting in is called ‘Deuteronomy’ and is running for the first week of July at Riverside Studios in London – tickets available via the Riverside Studios website! 

Jo’s headshot

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