Twelfth Night, a co-production presented by Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh and Bristol Old Vic brought the wit of the words of William Shakespeare and more than a little bit of 1960s influenced psychedelia and fashion to The Royal Lyceum Theatre’s Edinburgh stage this evening.
I have to admit that I can at times find the plays of Shakespeare a little difficult to find an interest in when they are “re-imagined”, and this one started out as no exception to that problem for the first few minutes as it looked like this was going to be just another period costume drama trying to wrap itself around a story that is over 400 years old with the obvious issues that can cause, and the fact that so much has been done before trying to look “new and innovative”. For some reason, it seems to be a process that often leads to failure.
A few minutes into this production, and past our period party setting opening, this production directed by Wils Wilson proved itself to be an interesting piece of work that captured the essence of the original in all its scathing and biting humour while still being contemporary enough to provide a new doorway into the work to allow me to find a new interest in what happens to our characters.
There are many reasons why this production works on many different levels, but a good cast with many having that light touch needed for comedic timing has to be one of the reasons. A tight script that was overall flexible enough to adapt yet retain the spirit of its source material is another. Add to this mixture very good design from Ana Inés Jabares-Pita and new music from Meilyr Jones (also playing Curio), and the stage is set for a fresh and innovative look at a classic story.
There are many funny moments in this script, and of course, Shakespeare’s plays so perfectly lend themselves to gender switching the role, which makes them so often ideal for 21st century theatre performances. Along the way though we encounter some interesting re-imaginings of well-known characters, and Christopher Green was so obviously having so much fun with his transformative Malvolio. Looking completely at home in his/her 1960s inspired attire, Colette Dalal Tchantcho gives us an at times wonderfully aloof Duke Orsino. Colette also has that indefinable quality of being someone on stage that you just want to follow wherever she goes; I have never figured out what that quality is, but it is here. Giving a perfect balance to Colette’s Count is Lisa Dwyer Hogg as Olivia. Adding of course to our never ending gender swapping confusion are our separated twins Viola/ Cesario (Jade Ogugua Viola) and Sebastian (Joanne Thomson) with their very unlike twins appearance only adding to the delightful absurdity of this story.
As an actor, this must be pretty close to the perfect play to be in as the script is very generous in its allocation of good roles and dialogue to perform, and Joanna Holden (Maria), Dawn Sievewright (Lady Tobi), Guy Hughes (Andrew Aguecheek) and Dylan Read (Feste) are amongst others obviously enjoying their roles as much as the audience are enjoying their performances.
With its many gender switching roles, and a story that just pulls its audience into a make believe theatrical fantasy world, this version of Twelfth Night provided an interesting twist to the tale that, in the wrong hands, could have ended so differently.
This production though is still an idealistic nostalgic and retro look at how so many people imagine that the “Swinging Sixties” looked like. For many of us though who lived through that period, that look and feel did seem to “swing completely past where we lived” on its way to London’s Carnaby Street. Still a nice nostalgic “what if” feel to everything here though.
It is nice to see that period attention being paid to non stage aspects too with the programme cover looking every bit a scaled down vinyl record cover of the period complete with a little nod to one of the great record label logos of the day (Parlophone).
Review by Tom King