Review: BAKED SHAKESPEARE: THE TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA at the Outlore Base Has Cape Town Abuzz(ing)

This is the Fourth Baked Shakespeare Production since 2021.

By: May. 29, 2024
Review: BAKED SHAKESPEARE: THE TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA at the Outlore Base Has Cape Town Abuzz(ing)
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Of the four baked Shakespeare productions that have been staged in Cape Town since 2021, I have been lucky enough to have seen three of them. 2024’s show, THE TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA is, in my book, the group’s best production yet and provides a fun, relaxed, and interactive night at the theatre.

Jake Maisel, the founder of Baked Shakespeare, teams up with five other cast mates: Laura Kelly, James stoffberg, Erin Gemmel, S’Qhamu Mangcu, and Sarah Lazarus to bring us THE TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA, excellently directed by Kimberly Buckle.

 I admit that, despite being a big Shakespeare fan, this is the first adaptation that I have seen of this lesser-performed play, which some claim to be the very first penned by the Bard.

Review: BAKED SHAKESPEARE: THE TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA at the Outlore Base Has Cape Town Abuzz(ing)

First, I must comment on how much the Baked Shakespeare experience has evolved over the years – it really has grown in leaps and bounds. For example, the voting process in terms of who gets ‘baked’ has been streamlined and is much more exciting in that suspense is built among the audience members. While the productions I have seen before had audience members selecting actors based on levels of applause, this time around is different. Each audience member is provided with a bottlecap on arrival. Envelopes bearing each actor’s name and photograph are strung across the wall and audience members then place their bottlecap in the envelope of the performer who they would like to see consume cannabis (honestly, I’m just trying to find the novel ways to describe ingesting marijuana). By the time the show begins, the votes have been accounted and the actors reveal either a paper-made weed leaf or a broken heart from their envelopes to see who has been chosen to smoke the herb that night.

If you haven’t seen a Baked Shakespeare production yet, here’s how it works:  two actors are selected per performance to get spaced. Five audience members are provided with a sign saying ‘fie’ which they can raise once at any point in the show. Each time this happens, the production pauses and both high performers take a massive hit from a  bong. By the end of the night, the two have had five hits from the bong and absolute hilarity and chaos ensue.

Now onto the plot: THE TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA tells the story of Valentine and Proteus, two best friends, and how love threatens to come between them. In essence it is a tale of “bros before hoes”.

On the night I attended, Maisel (as Proteus) and Stoffberg (as Launce, Proteus’ servant, and the Duke) were the two chosen to smoke pot.

Review: BAKED SHAKESPEARE: THE TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA at the Outlore Base Has Cape Town Abuzz(ing)

What stands out in this production, besides for the obvious thing, which is weed, is the energy. From the second that Kelly provided the introduction to the show and explains how it will work, I was enthralled. Each cast member brings a crackling energy (dare I say ‘buzz’?) to the piece and the pacing doesn’t slow – even by those who are stoned out of their minds.

One of my favourite things about Baked Shakespeare is the fresh take on Shakespeare - which some (not me) deem stuffy and outdated works. Baked Shakespeare provides a space where excellent, (and well trained) actors stage the Bard’s plays while encouraging the audience not to take the experience too seriously. For example, when the blazed actors are struggling to keep their composure, their cast mates support them by temporarily breaking character to motivate them. For example: “You’ve got this – we’re so close now!” – and the audience loves it. We also love, and eagerly wait for, those who are blasted to botch their lines – it’s what makes Bake Shakespeare ‘Baked Shakespeare’. The actors know their material so well that the professionalism of the production really shines through in these moments – they pick each other up (figuratively) and often pick up on their zonked co-stars’ lines. All of this ultimately makes Shakespeare more accessible and is a way of keeping the original texts alive in a fun and unique way. It also ensures that a completely different experience is had every night – different people take the ganga and different hilarities shenanigans result therefrom.

One of my favourite moments on the night I attended is when Stoffberg was so out of it that he began summarising the key takes from his monologue in modern English. I also loved when Maisel, who somehow is able to play the ukelele expertly even while stoned, stopped mid-monologue to rub his forehead and to declare mournfully, “I have so many lines”.

Each cast member, both high and sober, is excellent. Kelly, as Silvia (Valentine’s love interest) is a fantastic and versatile actress, who is electric onstage. The same can be said of the rest of the cast: Gemmel, Lazarus, and Mangcu. Each has excellent comedic timing and made me guffaw, even in my sober state.

The fight scene is really well choreographed (I loved the slow-mo) and the Shakespearian musical number at the end is a highlight. Baked Shakespeare really has reached new heights (or shall I say highs. Sorry) with this production and I am excited to see how the troupe continue to grow. Kudos must go to Buckle for her tight and creative direction.

While the show is currently on at the Outlore Base, it will be travelling to various theatres over the next few months. Don’t miss it.

Baked Shakespeare’s THE TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA runs at the Outlore Base from 16 May to 1 June 2024. Tickets range between R120 and R150 and are available via Quicket. After this run, catch the show at the Masque Theatre in Muizenberg on 21 and 22 June and at Café Roux in July.


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