“It’s hard to figure out which is greater, the vibrant whole or the sum of its high-calibre parts”
Yard Players follow up a successful production of King Lear by whip-panning to the other end of Shakespeare’s spectrum, staging his seasonal romantic comedy at the same venue. The audience’s age range suggests Director (and Set Designer) James Eley’s plan to make the classics accessible to all is working, though Twelfth Night traditionally doesn’t need much help, with enough pranks, set pieces and comedy devices to please any post-Christmas crowd.
An intelligent and thorough production starts by shifting Illyria to Northern England, bringing the enjoyable impression that Viola (Jessica Kinsey, sole survivor from King Lear) is shipwrecked somewhere off the shore of Grimsby, then finds herself in the thrall of Duke Orsino (Duncan Drury) a lovestruck local aristocrat who previously had only his Alexa to talk to. In this world, Andrew Aguecheek (also Duncan Drury) is a gratingly braying twit in a flat cap with more money than brain cells and Maria (Heloise Spring) is a lairy troublemaker in tracksuit and hoop earrings.
New jokes are heaped upon 400-year-old ones with a mania that makes the arrival of Viola’s twin, Sebastian (James Viller), in an earnest scene with saviour, Antonio (Daniel Chrisostomou), a huge and welcome relief. This change of pace, style and mood is also a helpful signpost for the arrival of the main plot, a directorial ploy that is used again in the second half, when Malvolio (Daniel Chrisostomou again), as protagonist of the comedic sub-plot, is tormented. As the lighting changes, pinioning him in a red spotlight surrounded by darkness, his comedy becomes tragic and his sub-plot starts to usurp the main story. By the end, Malvolio’s ‘notorious wrong’ carries the greater dramatic weight, overshadowing the supposedly symmetrical love matches that are intended to set things right and send audience spirits soaring.
If it opts for a darker denouement, there is no lack of joy in the performance and creative arts. The substance Daniel Chrisostomou manages to invest in both Malvolio and Antonio gives the production its unusual gravitational force, but it is balanced on the comedy side of the scale by Pete Picton, who is as watchable a Sir Toby Belch as you could find at any ticket price, sowing confusion and enmity with the blamelessness only a drunkard can expect to pull off. James Eley’s nautically themed set is both impactful and detailed and Maeve McCarthy’s compositions are apt in their scene-setting, if rustically played, while Paul Lennox’s Lighting Design, as mentioned, is sparingly deployed but emphatic.
It’s hard to figure out which is greater, the vibrant whole or the sum of its high-calibre parts. Characters occasionally seem to be performing in different comedic genres alongside each other, but the ensemble playing is fast moving, the mischief and malevolence isn’t ignored, and some moments of empathy and pathos slip through at surprising moments.
“their rendition makes it apparent that you can no more rush the immortal words of Shakespeare than the overthrowing of a tyrannical despot”
Theatre company Mad Wolf aim to make Shakespeare ‘exciting, thrilling… and for everyone’ in their new one-act rendition of the playwright’s historical tragedy Julius Caesar.
Set in Rome in 44 BC, Julius Caesar, produced and directed by Gavin Richards, depicts the moral dilemma of the Roman senator Brutus (Matt Penson) over joining the conspiracy led by Cassius (Alex Bird) to murder Julius Caesar (Aimee Kember) to prevent him becoming dictator of Rome. Supported by Casca (Aimee Pollock) and Cinna (Jasmin Keshavarzi), Cassius and Brutus succeed in their goal before being thrust into civil war against one of Caesar’s greatest supporters Mark Antony (Niall Burns) and Caesar’s adopted son, Octavius (Keshavarzi).
The six actors move confidently between 19 different roles using basic costume changes – a new jacket, a dressing gown etc. – to mark out their new character. Bird is standout in his role as Cassius, adopting an uncomfortably wide stare and hunch that perfectly fit the senator’s shady persona. Kember is thoroughly commanding as Caesar but handles Portia’s sensitive moments with her husband Brutus delicately as well. Frustratingly, some nuances in speech and character are lost by the cast’s over tendency to scream their lines at any moment of heightened emotion.
Mad Wolf’s intentions with their condensed production are noble but there is unfortunately more loss than gain. The performance moves at an incredibly fast pace mainly because the waffling speeches and winding metaphors inherent to Shakespeare’s work have been cut from the script. There is little to no time to pause and reflect on the events that have unfolded, and hugely important moments like Caesar’s death go by in a flash. The omission of such drawn out dialogue certainly makes the play more digestible especially to someone who may not otherwise engage with Shakespeare, but it also makes everything far more confusing due to the lack of exposition. Mad Wolf would have perhaps done better to edit or rewrite the script for clarity rather than simply take out huge chunks of text that are integral to the play’s narrative and rhythm.
The back wall of the theatre is covered in Lord Kitchener-style ‘Caesar Wants You’ posters, many of which are illustrated with graffiti declaring ‘Caesar is King!’ Empty sleeping bags, cardboard rubbish and coats litter the edges of the stage which the cast alternate between using as props and, rather oddly, as something to hide under or appear from when exiting or entering a scene respectively. This direction does make the theatre’s simple space more dynamic by not restricting the cast to the one aisle exit but this oftentimes comes across as comical which is rather jarring considering the overall mood of the play.
The debris also presumably represents the hard times which Caesar was able to capitalise on to gain power, but this is never explicitly explained. The senators’ formal attire resembles that of modern-day politicians which suggests that the audience is to interpret some sort of parallel between this tale and contemporary society, though this is not explored either.
The lighting (Lewis Plumb) is good. Notable moments include flashing overhead lights timed with a thunder sound effect to resemble lightning and the slow fade to black except for a spotlight on one of the Caesar posters at the end of the performance.
Mad Wolf’s production of Julius Caesar sets out on a worthy mission to make the Bard of Avon more accessible. Unfortunately, their rendition makes it apparent that you can no more rush the immortal words of Shakespeare than the overthrowing of a tyrannical despot.