Bridge House Theatre
Reviewed – 19th July 2019
“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.
Reviewed by Joanna Hetherington
Photography courtesy Bridge House Productions
Bridge House Theatre until 16th July
Previously reviewed at this venue: