Tag Archives: Shakespeare

TWELFTH NIGHT

★★★★★

Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre

TWELFTH NIGHT at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre

★★★★★

“The emotional stakes reach the treetops in the park. The magic shoots for the stars. It is innovative, funny, cheeky, camp and degenerate.”

I’ve never really been sure where Illyria was geographically, but walking away from Regent’s Park, as the moon rises and the lights twinkle through the greenery, the urge to pinpoint it on the map is great. It seems to be somewhere between Montenegro and Croatia. But what a fabulous holiday destination it would make. Not for the sun and the sea, mind. But the locals. According to Owen Horsley’s louche version of “Twelfth Night”, there’s a little harbour café, named after its eccentric owner, Olivia. Its décor as unprincipled as the people that gather there, full of debauchery, music, liquor and queerness. It is Olivia’s world. Played by the tremendous Anna Francolini, Olivia grandly presents herself, channelling Norma Desmond, veiled in black lace and bluesy piano chords in five-four time. Belting ballads and clutching her brother’s ashes, Francolini sets the tone. Loud in her grief, silent in her longing, and always self-mocking.

You just want to go there and while away the early hours with this motley crew. The bar has seen better days. And so has Sir Toby Belch. Michael Matus, as off-duty and off-his-head drag queen, is a loveably licentious Toby, smeared in campness and lipstick. Matthew Spencer’s Andrew Aguecheek is a foppish travelling salesman type. A sofa-crasher, teetering on the verge of outstaying his welcome. Anita Reynold’s Maria is on hand to out-mischief her mischievous colleagues, while Julie Legrand’s Feste is primed with wistful wisdom, ready to out-sing her hostess. Weaving himself into the throng is Malvolio, a deliciously prim Richard Cant with sinewy self-righteousness, flexing his indignation like a haughty schoolmistress.

 

 

The band of musicians add merriment and melancholy in equal measure. Late night jazz adds magic to the twilight while a saxophone cries to the moon. The intended queerness that Horsley is unearthing from Shakespeare’s text is less a celebration than an extra layer. What comes across more is the eccentricity and the camaraderie, the joie-de-vivre and the affectionate rivalry. Shipwrecked, and stumbling into this mayhem, Viola (the brilliantly sassy Evelyn Miller) surprisingly takes it all in her stride. Mind you, she has just run into the dashing Orsino (a thoughtful and commanding Raphael Bushay), so her mind is on other matters. Dressed as a boy – Cesario – she is reluctantly despatched to persuade Olivia of Orsino’s unrequited love. But damn it all – Olivia swoops out of her veil to pop her lusty eyes on the alluring amorousness that Cesario/Viola exudes.

Interestingly, the secondary plotline explores the unrequited love more convincingly. Antonio draws the short straw, always the one left alone at the end of the play. Nicholas Karimi is a potent symbol of loyalty, also subtly conveying the shadowed buds of love for Sebastian. Andro Cowperthwaite (a dead-ringer for Miller’s Viola), while returning the affection has the thankless task of being too easily seduced by Olivia. We never lose sympathy, but the haste with which the happy couples all come together is a flaw which dents our empathy. Similarly, the cruelty towards Malvolio fails to come across sufficiently, and his vow for revenge resembles a telling off in an unruly classroom. What is achieved, however, is a novel and refreshing sense of forgiveness, which steers us towards a finale steeped in affection and fellowship.

The emotional stakes reach the treetops in the park. The magic shoots for the stars. It is innovative, funny, cheeky, camp and degenerate. Again, if only this bar could be found in a holiday brochure. I’d be there like a shot. You just want to spend as much time as possible with these characters. Well – actually – you can do that by going to the Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park. And I strongly urge you to do so.


TWELFTH NIGHT at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre

Reviewed on 9th May 2024

by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Richard Lakos

 

 

 

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:

LA CAGE AUX FOLLES | ★★★★★ | August 2023
ROBIN HOOD: THE LEGEND. RE-WRITTEN | ★★ | June 2023
ONCE ON THIS ISLAND | ★★★★ | May 2023
LEGALLY BLONDE | ★★★ | May 2022
ROMEO AND JULIET | ★★★½ | June 2021

Twelfth Night

Twelfth Night

Click here to see our Recommended Shows page

 

KING LEAR

★★★★

Riverside Studios

KING LEAR at Riverside Studios

★★★★

“a stunning sight that feeds our imaginations”

The air is thick with silence. And darkness. As we hold our breath, our eyes slowly adjust while a blanket of white light spreads across the back wall like an uncertain dawn. Silhouettes appear like ghosts on polaroid. A crack of sound. Not a word is spoken. King Lear: a fallen angel with bleached hair, is flanked by the black-clad figures of Goneril and Regan. Gestures alone reveal the deception of their false declarations of love. Cordelia watches from the side, until Lear grabs the back of her hair. We realise the silence has been replaced by an electronic drone, pulsing within its crescendo. Still, not a word is spoken. We are in a world of silent screams. A visual tableau long before the invention of language. A modern world, yet one that is as timeless as Shakespeare. We are in Tang Shu-wing’s world.

Shu-wing’s all female production of “King Lear” premiered in Hong Kong in 2021 and was performed in Shanghai two years later, before coming to Riverside Studios for its UK premiere. The director’s style – ‘nonverbal theatre of gesture’ – is the star of the show. Whether the West London audiences are ready for this or not is a moot point. The boldness of the production will keep audiences transfixed. Minimalist and stylised it reduces Shakespeare’s tragedy into ninety minutes of silent physical drama.

 

 

Whilst the emotions are sharply conveyed, it is strongly advisable to be familiar with the original text. Otherwise, one might drift, pulled by the urge to seek another distraction in our thoughts. Occasionally it feels like just one part of a wider exhibition. An installation that we would like to wander into and out of. And we wonder: is it a work of art? Is it dance? Is it mime? Or all the above? Is it classical? Is it sci-fi? Jade Leung’s costume design is chic and modern while Billy Ng’s music is a futuristic canopy layered onto Anthony Yeung’s contemporary soundscape. Tsz-yan Yeung’s lighting is as much a narrator of the story as the performer’s slick movement, gestures and expressions. Shadows are cast, then sliced away by light: a single shaft like the blade of a knife, or a blood red flood of unease, tension and murderous intent.

It is a stunning sight that feeds our imaginations but also allows it to create its own subplots. We can grasp the narrative of the principal roles while the supporting players add neither confusion nor substance. Led by Cecilia Yip as Lear, the dynamic cast are fearless, forceful yet smooth as silk. Controlled, yet as fluid as the genders portrayed. There are no boundaries to cross here. No such thing as men or women. Just characters whose movements speak louder than words. The emotion comes to the fore. Cassandra Tang excels in the role of Cordelia, doubling as the Fool. Lindzay Chan’s Gloucester is a tragic figure, not just wordless but sightless, whose outstretched limbs and bloodied eyes convey the noiseless agony loud and clear. But here is no real lead player. Like gender, individuality is merged into an ensemble that moves as one.

And still not a word is spoken. As the final tragedy litters the stage, the figures morph back into their silhouettes. And the air is thick with silence once more. But only briefly. We hold our breath again, before the applause. We are not entirely sure what we have just witnessed, but we know our hearts have been touched. Evocative and original, Tang Shu-wing’s “King Lear” is challenging but is a theatrical dare that should not be resisted.

 

KING LEAR at Riverside Studios

Reviewed on 3rd May 2024

by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Tik Hang Cedric Yip

 

 

 

 

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:

THIS IS MEMORIAL DEVICE | ★★★★ | April 2024
ARTIFICIALLY YOURS | ★★★ | April 2024
ALAN TURING – A MUSICAL BIOGRAPHY | ★★ | January 2024
ULSTER AMERICAN | ★★★★★ | December 2023
OTHELLO | ★★★★ | October 2023
FLOWERS FOR MRS HARRIS | ★★★★ | October 2023
RUN TO THE NUNS – THE MUSICAL | ★★★★ | July 2023
THE SUN WILL RISE | ★★★ | July 2023
TARANTINO LIVE: FOX FORCE FIVE & THE TYRANNY OF EVIL MEN | ★★★★★ | June 2023
KILLING THE CAT | ★★ | March 2023

KING LEAR

KING LEAR

Click here to see our Recommended Shows page