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Twelfth Night at Brockley Jack Studio Theatre | Review

Twelfth Night at the Jack Studio TheatreA wooden box remains in position, dead centre stage, throughout this production of Twelfth Night, which is faithful enough to the Shakespeare text, and isn’t one of those overly abridged versions that shoots itself in the foot trying to be accessible so much that the details of the narrative fail to be fleshed out properly (such that the production becomes ironically less accessible). Instead the setting is brought up-to-date, sort of, with some characters wearing those identification badges that hang around one’s neck, though quite what sort of employer in this day and age would have Sir Toby Belch (Pete Picton) openly drinking during the working day is anyone’s guess.

He does, to be fair, have his drink removed from his person on several occasions, and a comedy element arises in his being able to pull out another one from another pocket almost immediately thereafter. There’s not much to write home about with regard to scene changes, which is hardly problematic given how Shakespeare plays were originally performed, with some effective lighting changes helping to provide a little scenery. Just ten characters are listed in the show’s programme, the most notable absence (to my mind, anyway) being that of the clown Feste. Other characters are included after all, but in the interests of the narrative, it’s perhaps wise not to have them explicitly name-dropped.

The production progresses as a steady pace – it’s slick enough for there not to be a longing for the narrative to speed up. This isn’t the only Shakespeare play to make much of disguises and deceit, and the contemporary dress code to accompany the contemporary setting effectively means that dukes are dressed fairly similarly to those outside the nobility. Sparing but tasteful use of mobile telephony as well as actor-musicianship add further layers to the performance, which thankfully doesn’t attempt to be too forceful in its attempts to be relevant to modern audiences.

Daniel Christostomou’s Malvolio is suitably earnest, going through a full gamut of experiences as he is deceived into being a legend in his own mind. As the show goes on, some sympathy is gradually invoked for him. More, perhaps, could have been made of the unveiling of the yellow tights (Act III Scene IV) as it received the most subdued response I’ve come across to date. Duncan Dury’s Sir Andrew Aguecheek, meanwhile, has a rather likeable kind of ridiculousness that simply fails to irritate.

As befits the studio theatre space, the audience is thankfully spared the kind of hair dryer treatment with which some productions of the Bard’s plays insist lines are delivered in. There may not have been side-splitting laughter, but there were sufficient gentle chuckles. Gender fluidity in a Shakespeare play, I suspect, will not have gone entirely unnoticed by a twenty-first century audience. While this production may not have been ground-breaking in terms of taking a radically different approach to this oft-performed piece of theatre, it’s a solid and dependable night out.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

When Viola washes up on the shores of Illyria, she witnesses the festivities first hand and is drawn into the schemes of the love-struck Duke Orsino, and subjected to the antics of the anarchic Toby Belch. At first it’s all fun and games, but then things take a more serious turn.

Twelfth Night exposes a world of love triangles, plotting drunkards and false identities. In the northern town of Illyria anything goes, especially on Twelfth Night.
Following their sell-out production of King Lear, Yard Players bring a vibrant and modern take to one of Shakespeare’s most renowned comedies, in a production full of comic twists and dark turns.
Yard Players are an emerging company from south east London, bringing accessible, intelligent and fast-paced productions of classical texts to new audiences.

The Creative Team
Playwright – William Shakespeare
Director – James Eley
Assistant Director – Maya Shimmin
Lighting Design – Paul Lennox
Producer – Yard Players
The Cast
Daniel Chrisostomou, Heloise Spring, Candice Price, James Viller, Duncan Drury, Pete Picton, Jess Kinsey

Brockley Jack Studio Theatre
410 Brockley Road, London, SE4 2DH

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