"'Tis not for gravity to play at cherry-pit with Satan." Act III, scene iv
|OVO ; July 9, 2007 St. Albans, UK|
Director : Adam Nichols ; Starring :
Reviewed on : 2007-07-11 09:06:52 ; Reviewed by : Wendy Attwell
|OVO deserve to be playing to larger audiences in bigger venues and for extended periods of time. Their musical production of Twelfth Night plays for just nine performances across two venues and this just doesn't seem enough for such a polished and sparkling production. Director Adam Nichols has managed to put together not only a well-thought out, brilliantly cast and superbly realised piece of Shakespeare but also a fully choreographed musical show, complete with a five-piece live band and a master of ceremonies. Add to this the complimentary drinks handed out to the audience and that's a lot of theatre for your money!
The twins in this production are singing-dancing duo 'Viola and Sebastian' - a performance background that sits well with Viola's subsequent transformation into a man. Faith Turner gives a strong performance as Viola, portraying her with an inner melancholy simmering away under her manly facade. Turner is very watchable, with a strong singing voice and some very smooth dance moves and I look forward to seeing her in future productions. Edmund White plays Sebastian, bereft and lost, and between scenes is also musical director and plays the clarinet in the production band 'Food of Love'. Anna MacLeod (Maria) has the wonderful and rare quality of voice that makes Shakespearean dialogue sound completely natural and comprehensible to an ear accustomed mainly to modern English. Her speech patterns and subtle facial expressions convey the essence of the character without ever resorting to gesticulation or caricature. MacLeod's Maria is playful, mirthful and just a little bit bawdy, and as always a joy to watch. Sir Toby Belch (Dan Warren) is a huge bear of a man who does everything to excess. Throughout the play he belches, farts, snores, drinks copiously and flirts outrageously. Yet we can forgive him his coarseness because he is actually very likeable. He loves life and wants everyone else to lighten up and enjoy themselves. Good contrast is made with Sir Andrew Aguecheek, a bumbling and rather vacuous character, excellently played by Will Franklin (who also doubles up as part of the band). Howard Salinger as Feste is a true clown and truly funny. He brings a lot of energy to the stage and yet manages to make his performance look relaxed and effortless.
By setting the play in 1928, aboard the cruise liner SS Illyria, this production pulls the characters into an enclosed environment where their close proximity to each other results in the confusion and humour that ensues. Orsino (David Widdowson) and Olivia (Kathryn Rogers) laze in their own luxurious quarters, or in the lounge bar where they are separated both by etiquette and (physically) by the band. Sir Toby and Sir Andrew, followed by Maria, Feste, and the sexy Fabia (Tania Rowe), prefer to spend their time outside, idling in deck chairs and reading newspapers. In fact this is where they play their trick on poor stiff and stuffy Malvolio, (Tim Robinson), who is over-eager to believe the lies fed to him by his scheming companions.
Of course the most innovative part of this production is the music. The text of Twelfth Night already contains songs and here they have been replaced by their 1920s equivalents. Billed as Twelfth Night - 'The Musical' the show could easily have been a feeble attempt at song-writing that fell flat on its face. I wasn't at all sure what to expect. Instead it is a glorious mix of straight Shakespeare, well-known music-hall songs (you'll recognise most of them and be surprised at how well you know them), and wonderful dance routines (choreographed by Jill Priest). All characters are at some point involved in the song and dance and some of the performances are very memorable indeed. Amongst them are Malvolio's hilarious yet touching rendition of 'I wanna be loved by you', complete with 'boop-boop-a-doops'; Feste dressed as a shepherdess singing 'Someone to watch over me', and Viola and Olivia dueting on 'Maybe this time'. There's also a wonderfully risque song called ' I'm Gonna Give It to Mary with Love' sung by Feste, Sir Toby and Sir Andrew. There is so much music interwoven with the story that this show really does deserve to be called a musical rather than just a play with musical interludes. Yet if we removed the Shakespeare these pieces would also stand up just as well and be just as entertaining by themselves. In its musical substitution this play loses nothing and gains everything. As we then might expect, the play ends on a song and dance but with a slightly sinister twist.
One of my personal bugbears is that Shakespeare's comedies in performance are all too often not very funny. This one is funny. Extremely so. In fact it is as near perfect a production of Twelfth Night as one could hope to see. It should appeal to anyone - whether or not they have any previous knowledge of Shakespeare and his works. Go see it before its too late.
Sir John Gilbert, R.A.,
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