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When Peter Hall became the artistic director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, he decided to open his first season with The Two Gentlemen of Verona. It was a bold beginning. The previous production had been in 1938, twenty-two years earlier. He wanted to show the chronological development of Shakespearean comedy, and billed it with The Merchant of Venice and Twelfth Night. Hall was also airing a new style of performing Shakespeare. It certainly shook up the critics...
A deafening orchestral fanfare of welcome in the foyer, a curtianless stage protruding right into the stalls - and a rustic actor sound asleep as the audience entered...'
Harold Conway, Daily Sketch, 6th April 1960
Hall was sick of the declamatory style in which Shakespeare was acted, and wanted to create a more intimate atmosphere for Shakespearean plays. He pushed the actors and audience closer together and directed the actors to speak the words for sense, rather than for the beauty of the poetry. He also encouraged actors to use the language as if it were modern. He also wanted to quicken the pace of the plays, so used a revolving stage to speed up the scene changes.
The play was full of life, energy, movement and sound. There were trumpets playing, beggars crooning, birds twittering and people marching, all on a moving stage, so that the play literally rolled with activity. Hall's ground-breaking approach was, however, rooted in a traditional setting. Set designer Renzo Mongiardino used Italianate décor to create the Medici atmosphere of Renaissance Florence. The men wore dresses to their knees and there were isolated papier maché oaks, fallen logs, broken balustrades, fireplaces and watch turrets. Although not all the critics were keen on the style, most agreed that the comic elements to the play were extremely successful.