Twelfth Night at the Rose Playhouse
The room is modest, and the stage (which is in fact just the floor, only feet away) mostly bare. The lights abruptly cut to black and almost as quickly as darkness hits, the unmistakable sound of tapping feet materialises and a routine to Rihanna’s Umbrella begins. Bizarre perhaps, but it certainly sets the tone for the following 90 minutes. Spoiler alert, there’s going to be music. Lots of it. We soon discover that the two main tappers are twins Viola and her brother Sebastian. They are both on board the cruise liner SS Elysium which is soon to meet its untimely fate, after which we are transported to the SS Illyria, where the remaining action takes place.
Performed by the award-winning theatre company OVO and directed by its co-founder and artistic director Adam Nichols, this modern retelling of Shakespeare’s comedy Twelfth Night is undeniably a wild departure from its predecessors. Though the dialogue remains Shakespearian, this version is instead set against the backdrop of the roaring 20s, an age defined by decadence and excess. The main antagonist and arrogant steward Malvolio becomes Malvolia (wonderfully played by Faith Turner) while Sir Toby Belch is now Lady Toby. Anna Franklin too is great in this role, with her depiction of Toby inciting some of the biggest laughs of the night. Most notable, though, are the reworked modern-day songs which punctuate scenes throughout the course of the play. Tracks ranging from Sisqo’s Thong Song through to Britney’s Oops I Did It Again are given the jazz treatment. Think Postmodern Jukebox, only everyone plays instruments and sings.
The intimate and exposing space is perhaps the perfect choice for a piece heavily centred on deception and mistaken identity, where characters struggle to differentiate fact from fiction. The lighting is simple, reserved primarily for a signature spotlight on the designated singer of the moment, while characters frequently address the audience throughout the play, enforcing an intimacy which is equal parts uncomfortable and enjoyable. Lucy Crick and Emma Watson as Cesario/Viola and Olivia respectively turn out strong performances, while James Douglas as the bumbling Sir Andrew Aguecheek is a comic delight.
While it’s certainly a unique retelling of the oft-repeated story and the comedic moments do indeed incite some chuckles, the occasional awkward placing of the music can take you out of a moment almost as soon as you’re in it. The singing also left a little to be desired at times, though this can be forgiven, if only thanks to the beautifully haunting rendition of a certain alternative rock band’s signature hit during the closing scene. If you like your Shakespeare accessible and can leave any preconceptions at the door, Twelfth Night is a fresh twist on a familiar tale that mostly hits the mark.
Photo: Lou Morris
Twelfth Night is at the Rose Playhouse from 23rd April until 5th May 2019. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.