Shakespeare, writer, poet and astute businessman, knew the importance of having a gimmick, something that would pull in the crowds.
Queen Elizabeth I was rather partial to seeing a dog in her productions and so it was that the unsung star of the Bard’s earliest comedy, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, is a rather scruffy mutt.
The RSC’s rare revival of the production stars a lovely lurcher called Mossup and she manages to upstage an entire cast of Shakespearian thespians.
The canine star’s character is also stealing the show in London’s West End where the four-footed superstar, in the shape of a Labradoodle actor performing Two Gents, pads on, to the delight of audiences, in the sellout Shakespeare In Love.
Back in Stratford-upon-Avon audiences are lapping up Mossup’s performance as Crab. On Saturday she seemed a little down, whimpering and quietly whining under her breath, but she still played her part to perfection.
They say never work with animals and kids but director Simon Godwin knows a crowd-pleaser when he sees one. Mossup is a star attraction.
However, back to the play. Two Gents is slick, stylish and effortlessly funny. Without a doubt it has La Dolce Vita by being updated.
It’s a story of love lost and found, of jealousy and cross dressing, involving two best pals and the women in their lives.
It opens in a piazza where members of the audience are invited to join the townsfolk of Verona at Antonio’s cafe for a glass of Chianti or a gelato.
The owner’s son, love-sick Proteus, awaits his best friend Valentine.
Valentine (Michael Marcus) is off to the bright lights of Milano to work for the Gucci-clad Duke (Jonny Glynn all slicked-back long grey hair and designer shades).
But Proteus can’t bear to leave sleepy Verona because he is madly in love with the beautiful Julia.
Eventually he is commanded by his father to join Valentine and tearfully tears himself away from his loved one.
Once at the rather racy court Valentine falls for the Duke’s daughter, Sylvia – only for Proteus to arrive and begin plotting to have her for himself.
Poor Julia dresses as a boy to infiltrate the court and see for herself what her errant love is up to.
The more earthy banter comes from the lower classes – by a rather cocky young servant to Valentine called Speed (an assured performance by Martin Bassindale) who has a wonderfully witty exchange with his master about the intended recipient of a love letter.
Roger Morlidge serves up a rather well-dressed, drunken wastrel called Launce, owner of the silver-coated cur.
While, for the ladies, Leigh Quinn, as servant girl Lucetta, seems more girlie confidente than waitress.
The two gentlemen, Marcus and Mark Arands as Proteus, come across as a couple of Chelsea boys out on the pull with the whole affair a rite of passage into manhood.
There is a lovely moment when Nicholas Gerard-Martin, as Sylvia’s rival suitor Turio, bursts into song in a desperate bid to win her hand.
The poor sop doesn’t stand a chance but he won the hearts of the audience with an over-the-top power ballad that proved a real show-stopper.
Pearl Chanda, whose Julia is a delightful romantic heroine and an equally convincing boy, often shares her fears with the auditorium.
Sylvia, at Saturday’s matinee, was played by stand-in Molly Gromaszki, and she did a sterling job.
Two Gentlemen is tremendous fun and arguably more comedic in Godwin’s capable hands than in some previous productions.
Running in rep until September 4 before appearing at Theatre Royal, Newcastle, October 7-11 and screened live into cinemas around the world from September 3.