Review: Twelfth Night
Image: Wilton's Music Hall
Victoria Blunt (Maria)
Peter Dukes (Malvolio)
Rebecca Lee (Viola)
Emma McDonald (Antonia)
Offue Okegbe (Feste)
Lauryn Redding (Sir Toby Belch)
Jamie Satterthwaite (Orsino)
Mike Slader (Aguecheek)
Lillie Flynn (Olivia)
Ned Rudkins-Stow (Sebastian)
Bohemian, outlandish, isolated: Illyria is a land where everyone has lost something in a world reeling in the wake of war.
Viola is washed ashore.
In a bid to survive this mysterious ethereal land, she disguises herself as Cesario to serve the solitary Duke Orsino.
What follows is a tale of mistaken identities, seduction and transformation, leading to a complex love triangle and the near destruction of all propriety!
The Watermill, renowned for its bold, progressive and collaborative approach to Shakespeare, re-imagines Twelfth Night in the hedonistic 1920s, where prohibition is rife.
Fused with innovative staging and actor musicianship, the radical spirit of Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald collides with the contemporary influence of Postmodern Jukebox.
Following a hugely successful UK and international tour and fuelled by energetic jazz music, the ensemble reunite to create a dizzying and beautiful version of Shakespeare's perfect play.
There will be a post-show talk on Thursday 20th September after the matinee performance.
If music be the food of love ... this production of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night provides something of a romantic banquet or musical binge.
And it all kicks-off while we're taking our seats as the multi-talented cast of actor-musicians treat us to some jazzy numbers and invite members of the audience for a quick twirl around the stage - by dancing, that is - and many of the assembling theatre-goers proved more than up to the challenge.
Paul Hart's production is, in all but name, a musical rendition of this ever-popular, still funny and, in the second half, rather dark play that finds Malvolio incarcerated in a cell, prompting him on his release to seek revenge.
In fact, it is a play of quite distinct halves with the first sporting ample comedy and fun, but contrasted with the later section which leaves us wondering about the darker side of human nature.
Cast of Twelfth Night - photo by Matt Crossick
Music really is the key to Mr Hart's excellent and refreshing production and he's managed to assemble an ensemble who have a breathtaking array of musical skills that cover a wide variety of instruments.
Now if you're getting the impression that this predominance of music might suggest that Shakespeare's text takes a bit of a back seat, then you'd be mistaken.
Mr Hart's highly considered and authoritative direction draws-out superbly spoken dialogue from the cast.
Not only do we hear every phrase with crystal-clear clarity, we also find every word carefully, but fluidly delivered to extract every nuance from the text - it's Shakespeare spoken with aplomb and yet feels fresh and rather modern too.
In particular, Rebecca Lee's Viola/ Cesario excels in this regard and is a real joy to listen to.
It doesn't matter, then, if you don't know the plot, nor if you usually find Shakespeare 'difficult' - here, the cast make it easy to follow and comprehend.
And that's important because there are some great lines in this play, such as those recited from the "Some are born great ..." letter, and others besides that most of us readily recognise - a modern reminder of Shakespeare's all-pervading influence on British conversation and life.
Gender is pliable here with Sir Toby Belch becoming a 'she' and morphing in the process into something more of a miscreant joker rather than the drunken lecher long past his sell-by date that we're more used to.
Offue Okegbe as Feste - photo by Matt Crossick
And Peter Dukes' supercilious Malvolio gets an astonishing makeover when he appears in yellow stockings and 'cross garters' that become suspenders, teamed-with a fetching feather boa.
There's fine singing from the entire cast, but I particularly enjoyed Offue Okegbe's delightful vocals as Feste, the strange jester whose palms are regularly lubricated with cash, but who also freely assists the hapless Malvolio in the final stages.
It's worth arriving at the theatre a little early to experience the ambience of the pre-show music and dancing, though that leaves the overall running time at around the three hour mark.
Still, it's more than worth it to see a production that reinvigorates the play with some alluring musical numbers, ably exploits every morsel of humour and proves captivatingly entertaining and thoroughly enjoyable.
Links and related content
ActDrop listing for Wilton's Music Hall
Our show listing for Twelfth Night
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