“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.
“the Ed Miliband of Shakespeare: reliable, dependable, with the right words in the correct order but lacking that sense of purpose or timeliness”
I understand why people want to put on Shakespeare. It’s deep, people want to watch it, and it’s royalty free. What more could you want? But Shakespeare isn’t impressive like surgery is, it’s impressive like running a marathon is. Now, everyone has seen a marathon and if you want to make a statement you either need to do it exceptionally well, or you need to dress up as a Rhino and deliver your message.
And if putting on a Shakespeare isn’t like running a marathon, then it’s really like trying to be prime minister or a member of parliament. I want to know ‘why you?’ What does the version of Lear say different from the last? What extra insight do you have into our contemporary world? What do you believe in? This production of King Lear was the Ed Miliband of Shakespeare: reliable, dependable, with the right words in the correct order but lacking that sense of purpose or timeliness.
James Eley’s production at the impressive Jack Studio Theatre isn’t bad by any stretch of the imagination. The cuts to the script are sensible; the performances are credible, and the production tells the story. But this is all cone and no ice cream. It leaves an audience member wanting more and with their attention free to focus on minor defects of pace and accent. You will be sure you saw King Lear but not sure why.
Themes were suggested and hinted but never committed to. In the beginning, the play seemed to be set in a series of pubs with Lear and his daughters as landlords, and club owners waging a turf war. But then the ‘fool’ was more Commedia dell’arte, the fighting Tarantino and the soundtrack part classical and part brit pop. Edmund became Ada with lesbian relations, but nothing came of it. All good ideas but the question ‘why’ just swirls and swirls.
Lear isn’t a simple production, and between disguises and actors playing many parts, it’s easy to get lost. Our players did a reasonable job of telling the story and keeping it clear, although occasionally we got lost with some scenes delivered like the actors quickly needed to get to the end. The experience of Christopher Poke (Glouster) and Alan Booty (Lear) did shine as they slowed down and gave some timing to the scenes.
Ultimately this is not a bad show. Lear is long and challenging and complex and just getting through it is often enough as the text does so much. If you like Shakespeare then this is worth a shake. But if you’ve read King Lear, you know the rough story, and you’re looking for more then you might be disappointed. In the end, just like a politician, I would prefer a flawed play with something to say, rather than a polished production saying everything all at once.