Confusing, mind-boggling and utterly enthralling. You'll become mad, but you also wont mind.
If, for whatever reason, someone decided to take one of Shakespeare’s most famous plays and merge it together with a circus or vaudeville performance, one suspects that the result would be something like Filter Theatre Company’s production of Twelfth Night. It is an enigma, one can only describe it as that.
I don’t however, mean that in a bad way. Once you are in the Nuffield Theatre and seated, you enter into an encapsulating world of music, sound effects and acting, designed to disorientate and muddle. It perfectly encapsulates the Bard’s comedy of mistaken identity and false messages. This is a production which both confuses and delights in equal measure and leaves the audience in a whirlwind of bewilderment and ecstasy.
Although one is meant to be keeping track of two plots; Viola’s wooing of Olivia on behalf of Orsino and Maria, and then Feste, Sir Toby and Sir Andrew making a fool of the Puritan Malvolio, I would say that the latter certainly grabs your attention more. This is not to pour scorn on the former, but more to praise the excellence of Dan Poole and Harry Jardine in their double act as Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew Aguecheek. Belch wanders around in a semi-drunken malaise blindly quoting other works by Shakespeare, as well as making witty interjections about modernity- his Jaffa cake question is particularly amusing. Meanwhile, Aguecheek is equally sozzled and satirical, his ball juggling during the drunken party is infectiously entertaining and is a tour-de-force in regards to audience interaction. In addition, Jonathon Broadbent also appears in his element as the easily unlikeable Malvolio, and his reaction to the surprise offering of pizza provides a superb laugh. Undoubtedly, the best moments are in the infamous ‘yellow stocking scenes’, where Broadbent totally comes to dominate the stage. The clowning element from the brilliant Crystal Condie as Feste is immensely funny and ensures that the satirical element remains at the forefront throughout.
To suit the ninety minute running time, some lines of dialogue are shortened and some are cut altogether. But after about ten minutes of watching, you quickly become aware of who is who and what is what. Having said that, although the production is very strong in the middle, the beginning does at times lack clarity and some moments, such as Viola’s defence of love, are lost to the cacophony of sound effects. Moreover, the ending feels truncated- the dual casting of Amy Marchant as both Viola and Sebastien, coupled with Harry Jardine portraying both Duke Orsino and Sir Andrew Aguecheek, does inevitably lead to confusion and the denouement is lost as a result of this.
The purist Shakespeare fans will undoubtedly dislike this. The set, rather than representing fictional high society, reminds one more of a high-school band practise; with instruments and apparatus strewn around in a bizarre and yet oddly methodical manner. This draws your focus away from the acting to an extent. The objects range from boxes of Frosties, to a classic radio and a drum kit. And even then, that is barely scratching the surface. The show doesn’t resemble Twelfth Night in the slightest. But despite this, one is always aware that they are watching a performance of Twelfth Night, albeit not in traditional sense.
Director Sean Holmes is fast gaining a reputation for unique interpretations of Shakespearean classics and on this evidence, he appears to be getting them right on the money. It might not be the exact play as imagined in Elizabethan England, but it is certainly as entertaining, if not more so.
Twelfth Night is at the Nuffield Theatre from 19th April – 23rd April. Tickets can be purchased here.