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Review of Twelfth Night at The Rose Playhouse | Review

Twelfth Night - Photography Credit - Lou Morris Photography
Twelfth Night – Photography Credit – Lou Morris Photography

One of these days I just might see a radical reinterpretation of Twelfth Night that somehow dares to dispense with the infamous yellow stockings. Should that day come I won’t be happy; I am pleased to confirm that day has not yet arrived. With my solitary ‘red line’ uncrossed, this production, set in the interwar period of fun and frolics, is not far removed from the kind of lifestyle of hard partying found in F Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby. Pared down to a reasonably pacey ninety minutes (apparently a stipulation of the venue, at least partly on account of there being no heating and no conveniences on the premises), it’s a unique take on a familiar Shakespeare play.

My knowledge of chart music has always been sketchy, and these days possibly the only time I would ever encounter it is in a minicab either going to or from a theatre, but there’s something for almost everyone in a show that makes use of a number of popular songs, more often than not to drive the storyline forward. The musical numbers (if I can call them that) fit the plot very well, making the whole thing more engaging than certain jukebox musicals, which arguably have greater freedom to concoct whatever storyline the writers wish.

Malvolio is now Malvolia (Faith Turner) and Sir Toby Belch is now a Lady (Anna Franklin), and there is much fun to be had in this deepening of the usual exploration of gender assumptions and expectations. As ever, it takes an entire team to make the suitably pompous Malvolia think that Olivia (Emma Watson – no, not the one who played Hermione in the Harry Potter film series) is in love with her. The combined laughter of Lady Toby, Sir Andrew Aguecheek (James Douglas) and others, as well as that from certain quarters in the press night audience, made me feel as though I were watching a television comedy with canned laughter. Still, I can’t help but admire the near-relentless ability on many of these characters to break out into such hearty guffaws over the course of the evening. And with the world being what it is, there’s nowt wrong with a bit, or even a lot, of happiness.

Most of the cast of fourteen play instruments in a show in which nothing is sung to track, allowing the production to showcase some talented actor-musicianship as well as give the SS Elysium, on which the play is set, the feel of having the sort of musicians that would have been on board an ocean liner, playing for the wealthier passengers. It is slightly odd, technically, to have more recent songs than the standards of the 1920s – instead of tunes made famous by the likes of Al Jolson, Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong, there’s songs made famous by pop stars Britney Spears and Justin Bieber, and R&B singer-songwriter Sisqó (amongst others) instead.

Some sympathy is elicited for Sir Andrew, mostly because it becomes increasingly evident that even in this revised production, he isn’t going to find love, at least not within the timeframe of the play’s plot. A thoughtful and entertaining show, with no weak links to report.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Marking the 30th anniversary of the discovery of The Rose Playhouse, St Albans-based company OVO now journeys to London presenting their modern take on Twelfth Night. In this new and exciting musical version, Shakespeare meets Postmodern Jukebox in a remix of one of his best-loved comedies, set on a cruise liner at the height of the roaring twenties.

On the SS Illyria, a live jazz band performs music from Rihanna, Britney Spears, Radiohead, Michael Jackson and many more. But, two campaigns are being quietly waged – one by the lovesick Duke Orsino against the heart of the indifferent Olivia; the other by an alliance of servants and hangers-on against the highhandedness of her steward, the pompous Malvolio. When Orsino engages the cross-dressed Viola to plead with Olivia on his behalf, a hilarious and bittersweet chain of events follows.

Viola Lucy Crick
Sebastian Joshua Newman
Orsino Will Forester
Olivia Emma Watson
Lady Toby Belch Anna Franklin
Sir Andrew Aguecheek James Douglas
Maria Jane Withers
Malvolia Faith Turner
Fabian Andrew Margerison
Antonio David Widdowson
Captain/Officer/Priest Alex White
Feste Hannah Francis

Director Adam Nichols
Musical Director Tom Cagnoni
Assistant Directors Alex Bell, Janet Podd
Set Designer Simon Nicholas
Lighting Designer James Wakerell
Lighting and Sound Operator Michael Bird
Stage Management Lizzie Thomson, Kiera Smith
Costume Designer Kate Unwin
Choreographer Jill Priest
Production Manager Beth Miller

Twelfth Night
Tuesday 23rd April – Sunday 5th May 2019
The Rose Playhouse, 56 Park Street, London SE1 9AR


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