The theatre at the Bridge House Pub in Penge is a well equipped, intimate space seating less than forty. It is an ideal venue for plays with a small cast, and, as this production proves, perhaps surprisingly, for Shakespeare. Guy Retallack, the director, cunningly decided that Twelfth Night could be staged with a cast of five ‘in-the-round’ to make the audience feel as involved as possible. This means that every actor has to play at least two roles, which, in a confusing plot for those who don’t know the play, could be even more confusing!
Happily, this was rarely the case, and when it was it was very amusing!
Ben Woods, in the roles of Feste and Aguecheek, was the most successful. He is one of those actors who exudes charisma whenever he appears, and easily takes control of the stage. He also has the most gorgeous resonant voice which he uses to full effect, whether singing or speaking, and is able to speak Shakespeare’s language so that it is easily understandable to an audience. Physically he is always relaxed, but in character, on stage, thoroughly at home with everything he does. He has also composed the music for this production and plays much of it on the guitar – when he is not changing costume and wig!
George Maguire is more successful in the role of Malvolio than he is that of Orsino. The undoubted highlight of the first half of the play is his reading of the letter that he discovers, hilariously and cleverly directed taking full advantage of the physical skills of the rest of the company.
Miriam Grace Edwards is both Olivia and Antonia. Hers is a very lively performance: whenever she is onstage the play has terrific energy.
Eve Niker has been well cast as Viola and Maria, providing a contrast of acting style. Both Miriam and Eve use the space effectively ensuring that the audience feels part of what is going on – so important where for many this may be their first encounter with the Bard!
Fayez Bakhsh seems at times uneasy in his dual roles of Sir Toby Belch and Sebastian. Occasionally diction was a problem (vocal coach Katherine Heath), even in such a small space, and had one struggling to understand what he was saying.
The set, designed by Natalie Johnson, as were the effective costumes, represented a beach with several tree stumps on which the actors could sit so as not to block sight-lines, very difficult to achieve in this small space.
Imaginative lighting was designed by Richard Williamson. It is often said that one should not notice the lighting, it should subtly light the actors’ faces and suggest mood, which was exactly what it did!
All in all, a successful, imaginative, small scale production of a large scale play, which deserves to attract new audiences to this South London venue (100 metres from Penge West station- ten minutes from London Bridge!) and on tour. The local craft beer can also be warmly recommended!
Review by John Groves
Twelfth Night, often described as one of Shakespeare’s greatest comedies and revolves around Sebastian and his twin sister, Viola – each of whom, when separated after a shipwreck and – believes the other to be dead. Cast ashore in a strange land of Illyria, Viola protects herself by adopting a male disguise – a ruse that leads to hilarious confusion when she enters the service of the lovesick Duke Orsino, acting as go-between in his hopeless suit to Countess Olivia.
The play features some of Shakespeare’s greatest comic creations including Sir Toby Belch and Feste. Twelfth Night is a masterpiece of unrequited love, gender reversal and mistaken identity and this production is not to be missed.
Rob Harris for Bridge House Productions SE20 Ltd presents
By William Shakespeare.
Adapted and directed by Guy Retallack. Lighting design by Richard Williamson.
Cast: Fayez Bakhsh. Miriam Grace Edwards. George Maguire. Eve Niker. Ben Woods.
The Bridge House Theatre, 17 June – 14 July 2019
Press Performances: Wednesday 19 and Thursday 20 June 2019 at 7.30pm