The Watermill Theatre Production of Twelfth Night is WP3. By that, I mean a wonderful play, a wonderful place and a wonderful production. If you are new to Shakespeare this production is the perfect place to start, if you know the play then this version will knock you off your feet. If music be the food of love, play on…
To start with the first part of WP3. The play Twelfth Night is The Bard’s best comedy – only Henry 1V Part 1 comes near – and boasts three of his finest comic creations; Sir Toby Belch, Sir Andrew Aguecheek and Malvolio. Again only Falstaff comes close. Second the place. Wilton’s Music Hall (1859) is the oldest surviving Victorian Music Hall in Europe. Located down an alley off Cable Street it exudes history. Walking into the building one becomes a time traveller experiencing the authentic look and feel of Dickensian London. Everywhere you look there are newspapers, playbills and posters referencing everything from Champagne Charlie, Marie Lloyd, T S Eliot, the Battle of Cable Street 1936 and Spike Milligan.
My third WP is, of course, most importantly the production. The Watermill Theatre are a very special company. The ten-strong cast and creatives work together as a team to make Shakespeare live and breathe. For me, they got the balance absolutely spot on between staying close to the original but at the same time making clever and pertinent contemporary connections. For example, the black double base case does double duty as a coffin in the funeral scene. As E M Forster put it… Only Connect. The cast are all talented musicians and so they have set the play in the Roaring Twenties, with prohibition – clever allusions to Malvolio’s puritanism… no more cakes and ale… gangsters and Jazz. They draw out the musicality of Twelfth Night superbly which combined with the Wilton setting and their own staggeringly brilliant musicianship (some cast members played two or even three instruments) ensures that the production is spellbindingly compelling.
Lauryn Redding as Sir Toby Belch is outstanding. With a touch of Eric Morecambe about her, she brings energy and slapstick humour to every scene. In a nice touch, she opens her jacket to reveal row after row of miniature whisky bottles. A very confident performer – she really engages the audience. She gives everything and really cares that the audience has a good time and that the lines make sense. My kind of actor. Mike Slader as Sir Andrew Aguecheek excelled as an upper-class fop combining PG Wodehouse with Harry Enfield’s Tim Nice But Dim. Peter Dukes Malvolio is unmissable. First as the supercilious lackey to Olivia (Lillie Flynn) and then as the smiling lover, yellow stockinged and cross-gartered he is astonishing. This is the most brilliant imaging of the Yellow Stockinged scene you will ever have seen. Staggeringly funny.
The Watermill Theatre set out to bring Shakespeare alive with innovative freshness and originality. Well, they have succeeded beyond expectation. A night out that makes one glad to be alive. If music be the food of love, play on…
Review by John O’Brien
Following the success of its run at The Watermill and its UK and international tour last year, The Watermill Ensemble will revive TWELFTH NIGHT at Wilton’s Music Hall from 12 to 22 September. Renowned for its bold, progressive and collaborative approach to Shakespeare, The Watermill Ensemble re-imagines TWELFTH NIGHT in the hedonistic 1920s, where prohibition is rife. Fused with innovative staging and actor-musicianship, the radical spirit of Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald collides with the contemporary influence of Postmodern Jukebox to create a dizzying and beautiful version of Shakespeare’s perfect play.
The Watermill Ensemble includes returning cast members Victoria Blunt (Maria), Peter Dukes (Malvolio), Rebecca Lee (Viola), Emma McDonald (Antonia), Offue Okegbe (Feste), Lauryn Redding (Sir Toby Belch), Jamie Satterthwaite (Orsino) and Mike Slader. Lillie Flynn (Olivia) and Ned Rudkins-Stow (Sebastian) join the original cast.
TWELFTH NIGHT is directed by Paul Hart and designed by Katie Lias. Sound design is by David Gregory, movement by Tom Jackson Greaves and musical direction by Ned Rudkins-Stow.
Twelfth Night at Wilton’s Music Hall
Weds 12 to Sat 22 September