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Review of Twelfth Night at The French Protestant Church

Scena Mundi: Twelfth Night
Scena Mundi: Twelfth Night – Photo credit Jessy Boon Cowler

One of the great things about being a reviewer is that you get to see some fantastic plays sometimes in absolutely stunning locations. This is very true when going to see the latest production by Scena Mundi Theatre Company who have brought William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night to the French Protestant Church on Soho Square.

The play starts with a promenade of all the characters along the central aisle and then after a musical introduction goes into the story proper. Well, when I say story I mean the main story as there are really three separate tales in this play, all of which go their merry way before joining together at the end.

The first is a story of the unrequited love of the Duke of Illyria – Orsino (Pip Brignall) – for the beautiful Countess Olivia (Emma Hall) – who does not return his feelings. The second involves Olivia’s uncle, Sir Toby Belch (Jack Christie) his friend Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Thomas Winsor) – another potential suitor for Olivia – Fabian (David Keogh) a servant and friend to Sir Toby, Feste (Edward Fisher) Olivia’s Fool and Maria (Clare Brice) Oliver’s gentlewoman. These five make it their business to harass, annoy and play tricks on Olivia’s Steward the pompous, upright, god fearing, stuffed shirt Malvolio (Martin Prest). This they do by sending him a love letter purporting to be from his mistress extolling him to do things he would never have dreamed of doing before. The final, and possibly most complicated, story is that of Viola (Harriet Hare) and her twin brother Sebastian. The two were on a ship together that founders during a storm with both Viola and Sebastian being shipwrecked separately, each believing the other to be dead. Viola, finds her way to Illyria and, disguising herself as a boy, enters the service of the Duke, who uses him/her to take messages of love to Olivia with unexpected results for all.

Actually, the way I have described the story above makes it sound a lot more complicated and convoluted than it is. In reality, Twelfth Night is one of Shakespeare’s easier plays to follow and Scena Mundi’s production is excellent at keeping the audience on track with what is occurring. The staging by Director Cecilia Dorland makes very good use of the altar and nave of the church which, I have to say is a wonderful setting for the play. Although the church has only been there since 1893, it looks right for the period and adds to both the sounds and lighting with its echoes and architecture. Turning to the writing, Ben, my companion on the evening and I had quite a lengthy discussion on the play and some of the themes within it. Obviously there is cross dressing and judging by appearance. There is also dishonesty, treachery and selfishness – particularly from Sir Toby who turns on Sir Andrew for no real reason apart from to amuse himself. But there are deeper themes such as sexual attraction being something that cannot be controlled – the Duke falls for Viola when she is playing the part of a male member of his household – and the power of the church to control and subjugate people – as happens to the incarcerated Malvolio.

Acting-wise, two characters really stood out for me and they were Martin Prest’s Malvolio who played the comedy perfectly as the only person for whom nothing was funny and Edward Fisher’s Feste who at times was the only non-fool on stage and seemed to observe the comings and goings of his ‘masters and better’ with a detached and amused air. The remainder of the cast were really good, though I have to admit I never warmed to Sir Andrew as a character – despite one of my friends telling me today what a sad and vulnerable creature he was.

To be honest gentles, Twelfth Night is not one of my favourite Shakespearean plays, especially when performed what feels like out of season, but both my companion and I thoroughly enjoyed this production. Just as they did last year, with Richard II, Scena Mundi found a unique way to bring Shakespeare’s work to life in a fun and engaging way by joining a great cast with a wonderful setting and providing a highly appreciative audience with just over two hours of superb entertainment.

4 stars

Review by Terry Eastham

Shakespeare’s much-loved comedy Twelfth Night has being given a fashion makeover at Scena Mundi this Spring. This three-week run will be a bold and finely crafted production that takes the Elizabethan style to a church catwalk.

Shipwrecked on the shores of Illyria and believing her brother Sebastian to be drowned, Viola decides to don men’s clothes to serve Orsino. Under the name of Cesario, she soon becomes a favourite of the young Duke and finds herself caught in a strange love triangle where ‘all is not Since its first performance on the day of the Epiphany in 1601, the lightness, fun and elegance of Twelfth Night have made it a favourite of theatre goers. The world of Illyria is one of disguise and narcissism where madness lurks under the surface. Viola’s arrival creates chaos and forces all to see beyond appearances to find their true identities.

Scena Mundi’s production focuses on the bitter-sweet mood of the comedy to enhance all its diverse aspects. Combining very precise work on text with highly elaborate costumes and clear story-telling, their Twelfth Night is an aesthetic rendition of a multi-facetted play about love, unruliness and self-discovery.

Twelfth Night by Scena Mundi
Running time 2 hours 30 minutes (including interval)
Twitter @ScenaMundi, #SMTwelfthNight
Director Cecilia Dorland
Music and Sound Design Jean-Philippe Martinez
Costumes Georgia Green
Movement/Choreography Darren Royston

Cast:
Maria/Sebastian – Clare Brice
Duke Orsino – Pip Brignall
Sir Toby Belch/Curio – Jack Christie
Feste – Edward Fisher
Countess Olivia – Emma Hall
Viola/Cesario – Harriett Hare
Antonio/Fabian – David Keogh
Malvolio/Priest/Officer – Martin Prest
Sir Andrew Aguecheek/Captain – Thomas Winsor

Tickets available from www.scenamundi.co.uk

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