Imagine an African duo with the comic skills of The Two Ronnies or Morecambe and Wise taking on Shakespeare, and you will get some idea of how funny this production is. Denton Chikura and Tonderai Munyevo, armed with nothing more than a trunk and a handful of costume props, hold the audience in the palms of their hands from the moment they emerge blinking through a stage trapdoor and grin nervously at the audience.
This is the trick that the all African companies in the Globe to Globe season have managed far better than better-resourced companies from Europe, who have struggled to adapt sophisticated productions designed for indoor stages to the outdoor space of the Globe, where interaction and rapport with the audience is crucial. The Kenyans and the South Sudanese do this far better than the Russians and the Poles, but this Zimbabwean version of The Two Gentlemen of Verona is the best of the lot. Chikura and Munyevo, who are based in London, are more than just a comic turn; they are an experienced and highly sophisticated pair of actors with a great mastery of timing and contrast, switching effortlessly from male to female and back again, and from slapstick to pain and tragedy. There's no question of breaking down the fourth wall in this production, because it was never there in the first place. They know exactly how to play off the audience without toppling over into self-indulgence.
I lived in Zimbabwe for three years in the mid-80s and one of the many things I miss about the place is the ever-present Zimbabwean sense of humour. Chikura and Munyevu have toured this play in English, playing all the characters, so doing it in Shona with the odd ad-lib in English is a logical step. They do it with the smallest possible set of props -- a green beret for the Duke of Milan, a single white glove for his daughter, and the recruitment of a few members of the audience to play the forest outlaws. Their trunk becomes a bath with imaginary taps, or a hotel reception desk. A handful of flour turns Chikura into Launce and a short piece of rope turns Munyevu into his dog Crab. This production doesn't abandon Shakespeare or leave him spinning in his grave, but remains remarkably faithful to his text. The problematic ending to the play is simplified slightly, so it finishes on a poignant downbeat note which is exactly right.
There's one more performance of this show, tonight at 7.30, so catch it if you can.