The Rose Playhouse
Reviewed – 24th April 2019
“Energetic music and some incredibly talented actor-musicians stop this production sinking”
“And we’ll strive to please you every day,” sings Feste in the closing scene of Shakespeare’s gender-swapping comedy of errors, and it’s certainly a maxim adhered to by OVO and director Adam Nichols in this entertaining production of ‘Twelfth Night’. A 1920s nautical setting relocates the play to the ‘SS Illyria’, where washed up music hall stars and famous actresses bump uglies and drink cocktails. Energetic music and some incredibly talented actor-musicians stop this production sinking, but it never quite sails along as smoothly as you would hope.
Viola (Lucy Crick) arrives on board having lost her twin brother Sebastian (Joshua Newman), so she of course dresses up as a man to enter the service of lovelorn Orsino (Will Forester), captain of the ship. Rather than wooing Olivia (Emma Watson – no, not that one) on Orsino’s behalf, Viola, now Cesario, becomes the object of Olivia’s affection, just as Viola realises she’s in love with Orsino. Cue mayhem. Alongside the main plot, the antics of Sir Toby Belch (Anna Franklin) play out in admirably foolish fashion.
Personally, I could watch ‘Twelfth Night’ all day long. It’s a cracking comedy that becomes richer for every watch. Director Nichols has vamped up the fun factor, replacing the original tunes for 1920s-style remixes of pop classics. Music is obviously key here, with each actor dexterously picking up different instruments throughout the night, and there are a couple of amazing singers in this cast, most notably Hannah Francis-Baker. However, the comedy value of hearing characters like Viola singing the likes of ‘Oops I Did It Again’ grows old quickly, and the singers need to own their songs more to convince us they are worth hearing.
The ship-based setting is also confused and underused. Forcing all these characters into a small, confined space could lead to some amusing quick-paced comedy capering, but in the end it just distracts from the storytelling. Decent cuts and some nice wiggling around of scenes keeps things short and snappy, but I did miss Antonio and Sebastian’s presence, and a cruel twist on the ending leaves Malvolia (Faith Turner) singing ‘Creep’ looking very forlorn in her yellow stockings.
Taken altogether, this is a fun and frothy take on Shakespeare’s comedy that certainly entertained this audience. Some unsteady songs and shaky acting almost take this production of course, but it picks up a pace and energy halfway through that means it makes it to dock safe and sound.
Reviewed by Joseph Prestwich
Photography by Lou Morris
The Rose Playhouse until 5th May
Previously reviewed at this venue:
Eight Lost Years of Young William Shakespeare’s Life
Reviewed – 29th March 2018
“What unfolds on the stage is absolutely magical”
Nobody knows what happened to William Shakespeare between the years 1585 and 1592, the so called ‘lost years’. There is no documentary evidence of his life during this period of time, so consequently a type of mythology has developed around these mysterious years. We do not know when or why he left Stratford-upon-Avon for London, or what he was doing before becoming a professional actor and dramatist in the capital.
Many people have their favourite version of the story, including Victoria Baumgartner who has written and directed “Will – or Eight Lost Years of Young William Shakespeare’s Life”. Presented by ‘Will & Compagnie’ in association with ‘Unfolds Theatre’ at the Rose Playhouse, these popular theories are explored with a compellingly fresh approach. It is hard to categorise the piece – it hovers between a play and performance art – as it switches between fantasy and reality and takes liberties with chronology. But that is not the point at all. What unfolds on the stage is absolutely magical.
The cast of five take us on Will’s journey, beginning with the young Shakespeare, newlywed to Anne, in the peaceful town of Stratford-upon-Avon. But, for Shakespeare, there is something missing, and his dreams and obsessions force him to leave his ordinary yet comfortable life behind. Sam Veck, as Shakespeare, is a revelation. In a dazzlingly natural performance he tackles the sense of period with a rock star’s sensibilities (a kind of Shakespeare meets Jim Morrison) capturing the obsessive qualities of a man dreaming of words nobody else can find.
Katherine Moran plays his wife, Anne, with touching honesty, relinquishing her husband. We can never really be sure why Shakespeare left his wife and family, but it is reasonable to assume that there must have been a strong reason, and the script cites the possibility that he was in trouble with the law and had to flee to escape punishment. It is quite heart wrenching to witness the separation, but moments of drama are expertly interspersed with comedy; particularly when we meet the ‘Queen’s Men’, a travelling group of actors led by Richard Burbage and his fictitious sister, Olivia (Ronnie Yorke and Beatrice Lawrence respectively). There’s a hilarious moment that suggests Shakespeare’s own over the top performance persuades the Burbages to recruit him as a writer rather than an actor.
The narrative would not be complete without Kit Marlowe and the Earl of Southampton. Charlie Woodward doubles as both characters, sometimes switching seamlessly and instantly from one to the other. Again, Baumgartner’s writing skilfully gives credence to the speculation of the relationships, but it is Veck and Woodward’s outstanding performances that spell out the understated homoeroticism.
A top notch cast indeed, who manage the shifts between fantasy and reality, past and present, fact and conjecture, tragedy and comedy. The play is bursting with echoes to Shakespeare’s future works. We see the fictitious inspiration to some of his greatest lines. We laugh at Shakespeare’s incarceration in an Italian prison, we cry at his reaction to his son’s death and then laugh at his failed audition for the ‘Queen’s Men’, but all the while we rejoice that these and many of the other events depicted may, or very possibly may not, have contributed to the subsequent thirty-nine plays he wrote. Shakespeare began by dreaming of words nobody else could find. He ended up adding nearly two thousand to the English language.
This play is an ingenious celebration of that fact: delighfully clever yet beguiling and moving. A real gem, and perfectly suited to the historical significance and resonance of the Rose Playhouse.
Reviewed by Jonathan Evans
Photography by Erin Lawson
Rose Playhouse until 21st April