“the huge amount of thought, work, imagination and versatility makes this Twelfth Night an enjoyable evening of love, laughter and, of course, cross-dressing”
Joining recent updated versions of Shakespearean favourites, Bridge House Productions presents a bright and spirited Twelfth Night with a colourful crowd of characters, plenty of music and lashings of vitality. Without any specific resetting, director, Guy Retallack, designs each role to become a modern and, in some cases, unusual conception of the original, bringing a refreshing take on the familiar script. As the audience sits around the shore of Illyria – a discreetly tasteful set by Natalie Johnson – five talented actors multitask, changing accents and costumes to create an array of distinctive personalities to tell this tale of love with energy, commitment and skill.
The lighting (Richard Williamson) and sound (Phil Lee) both fill the small theatre space with atmosphere but unlike other recent productions – Othello in the British Raj, the digital Facebook world of Much Ado, pre-war 1920s Midsummer Night’s Dream – Guy Retallack’s adaptation lacks a focal point in time or place for the cast to work around and identify with; without it, the performance doesn’t quite gel. The direction concentrates on a group of interesting and innovative individuals with a bond in certain relationships such as Sir Toby and Sir Andrew, but missing in others, importantly between Orsino and Viola. There are moments, for example Malvolio’s letter-reading, where a feeling of ensemble comes from some superb choreography by Paul Harris, but the denouement in the second half slackens without the natural integration of the characters to spark each other off.
Already a complexity of hidden identities, the doubling up by the company adds another layer to the melange. We discover their various qualities and facets, stretched to envelop the many contrasting portrayals. Eve Niker slips deftly into Viola’s disguise as Cesario and then switches to a wonderful, twinklingly Irish Maria. As Orsino and Malvolio, George Maguire steps from sleek American to pinched English, perhaps blending slightly towards the end, while, as well as enhancing the show with his live music, Ben Woods plays a diverse selection of parts, notably a hippie Feste and nit-witted Sir Andrew. Fayez Bakhsh (Sir Toby) and Miriam Grace Edwards (Olivia) both find an approach which sheds new light on clichéd interpretations and we hear Shakespeare’s lines with fresh voices
At almost three hours, it is a substantial rendering of this comedy. Nonetheless, the huge amount of thought, work, imagination and versatility makes this Twelfth Night an enjoyable evening of love, laughter and, of course, cross-dressing.
Alice and Fiona have been living in Rotterdam for seven years. They were only supposed to be there for one. It’s nearly New Year’s Eve and Alice is composing an email, and redrafting it, and spell checking it, and redrafting it again. She is trying to come out to her parents as a lesbian. But just as she is about to press send, her partner Fi delivers some unexpected news. Fi is a man, has always been a man, just wants to “stop trying to be a woman”. He asks to be called Adrian, the name his parents would’ve given him if they’d known he was a boy when he was born. The two characters spiral on different journeys, Adrian coming to terms with his gender identity, with the violence of being misgendered and the possibilities of hormones and surgery. Meanwhile, Alice questions her sexuality all over again, as she begins the process of accepting Adrian, and herself.
Jon Brittain’s script is a weaving explosion, each scene launching into the next (also thanks to Donnacadh O’Briain’s energised direction). The relationships between our four characters are gradually revealed, connecting them in different and surprising ways.
The set, designed by Ellan Parry, shows a black and white Amsterdam, splattered with pink, vivid purple, neon light, even covered with blue balloons at one point in the play. It isn’t anything hugely exciting but it doesn’t need to be. It allows for the different places the play takes us to, to be created, and for the story to be told. The mirrored door, throwing light across the audience every time it is opened is particularly lovely. Cleverly, even the details of the set, with backlit gendered toilet signs above a bar, are a constant reminder of the weight of gender, and the way we perceive it, in society. The fireworks thrown out into the audience – or seemingly so – are a really effective moment of lighting design from Richard Williamson.
The play is punctuated by some incredibly powerful and emotional images, but it is also laced with humour, and the actors find the balance between these moments really well. In fact the cast is strong all round. Lucy Jane Parkinson has a brilliant presence onstage, humourous at first, strong to the point of near aggression, deeply vulnerable when Adrian phones his mum to come out to her for the first time. A vivid performance of need and strength. Bethan Cullinane’s Alice is wonderfully played. Still closeted and unable to let go, she meets the vibrant Lelani (Ellie Morris) who takes her to parties and smokes weed with her. There is so much humour and life in this journey, and it is delicately undercut by Alice’s own struggles with her sexuality, and her frequently cruel way of processing Adrian’s transition. Elijah W Harris takes a couple of scenes to become grounded in the role of Josh, but when he does he is immediately likeable, and the relationship between Josh and Adrian in particular, feels warm and genuine.
This is a play through which you will laugh and cry. It discusses gender, sexuality, family, love and Rotterdam, and is delivered by strong, honest performances from a talented cast.
Reviewed by Amelia Brown
Photography courtesy I AM Marketing
Brighton Theatre Royal until 10th April then UK Tour continues