I suppose the Malachite Theatre Company is neither the first nor the last to present Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night in the great British outdoors. In many ways they picked a good venue. One of the imposing buildings comprising the Geffrye Museum in Hoxton serves as the stage, its front and side doors conveniently serving as entrance and ‘exeunt’ for the cast. On entry to the grounds the paying public had come prepared, with picnic blankets and hampers galore spread across the lawn, and only two rows of seats and benches for those of us who insist on seeing theatre sat on a chair.
Twelfth Night is by nature farcical. There is, for instance, Olivia (Zoe Lambrakis), who falls in love with Viola (Fiona Hardy). Viola dresses as ‘Cesario’, a man, and so Olivia has mistakenly fallen in love with a woman. If that’s slightly tricky to follow, that’s quite all right: the play is subtitled ‘What You Will’ – that is, the audience can make of the show whatever they like. In a play where girl falls in love with girl dressed as boy, boy falls for girl dressed as boy, and girl dressed as boy makes herself attractive to girl and boy, anything goes.
Even for this unassuming and cultured audience there are limits. There’s farcical and then there’s the ridiculous. The cast performs completely unamplified, battling through the London Overground line on one side of the Geffrye Museum’s grounds, and the Kingsland Road traffic on the other, with several double decker bus routes passing through. Occasionally a helicopter would be heard overhead, as well as groups of friends walking along the pavement outside, engaged in conversation. The Kingsland Road also serves as a main thoroughfare for emergency vehicles, and the sound of sirens completely drowned out a whole soliloquy.
It was simply a struggle to hear what was being said. Shakespeare productions have always relied heavily on the lines to drive the story forward. And if you can’t hear the lines, in the end, you have no idea what’s going on.
It’s not that this production can’t be enjoyed. It can, so long as you’ve seen a production of Twelfth Night (or read the script, or even an online synopsis) before! It wasn’t so much that the actors couldn’t project: Benjamin Blyth’s Feste, Anatole Gadsby’s Sir Andrew and Stephen Connery-Brown’s Malvolio were as clear as they would be had we been at the National.
Perhaps the direction could have been different. The ‘theatre’ could have been treated as a ‘traditional’ proscenium arch setting, rather than having people use the centre aisle as a performance area. Whilst I was at the very back, many in the audience had to turn around if they wanted to see who was saying what to whom at times. If an actor was standing in the aisle, dependent on which direction they were facing, that actor would be heard loud and clear by some sections of the audience, and not at all by others.
And for all that, I still enjoyed it. A valiant effort, and still lots of fun. The costumes are great – we do indeed see Malvolio in bright yellow stockings and all the rest – and as the night drew in, the stage lighting was simple but highly effective. Whether all the London traffic rumbling past was supposed to have been part of the farcicality of the piece I cannot say. What I can say is that if you do want some outdoor theatre courtesy of this production, sit as close to the front as is feasible. That way you’ll have a better chance of deciphering the dialogue.
Review by Chris Omaweng
On the distant shores of the mystical land of Illyria, the shipwrecked Viola has been saved from the sea. Believing her twin-brother Sebastian to be lost, she makes her way in this brave new world disguised as a boy in the service of the melancholy Count Orsino.
Shakespeare’s manic yet moving comedy of a family’s love overcoming death, Twelfth Night, is here brought roaring back to life by Shoreditch’s 5-star Shakespeare Company. Join The Malachites this July as we pack up the wagon and and head outdoors to the promise of the country!
Directed by one of London’s brightest young Shakespeare directors, Benjamin Blyth, and featuring a raucous new score, live music and a fantastic cast, this promises to be a summer offering not to be missed!
The Geffrye Museum,136 Kingsland Road, LONDON E2 8EA
2nd – 4th July 2015 @ 7.30PM
Friday 3rd July 2015