In just three months, theatrical productions on Zoom have become the norm as producers and actors look for a way to keep working and entertain people who can’t get to see live theatre. Zoom theatre productions now even have their own tropes such as the passing of an object be it a prop or piece of clothing from one actor to another even though they may be hundreds of miles apart, the use of wobbly greenscreen backgrounds and audience participation where attendees are asked to shake something or get up and dance. At that point, an audience member (or often members) is selected and shown full-screen looking suitably sheepish like a government minister who has been asked a question about Covid 19 that they don’t know the answer to. I’ve now seen several Zoom productions and unfortunately, they’re following a pattern that if it’s not done well, it doesn’t always come off.
I’m afraid that was what happened with Ovo’s Zoom production of “Twelfth Night”. There were a few technical glitches where audience members were seen on-screen when they shouldn’t be, the wrong character was shown and a number of times the screen went dark and there were significant pauses between scenes. This was a great shame as Ovo’s take on one of Shakespeare’s wittiest comedies is superb. Set in the 20s, twins Sebastian and Viola are a vaudeville act “The Dancin’ Twins” who get separated when the ship SS Elysium, on which they’re performing sinks and Viola is picked up by the SS Illyria believing Sebastian has drowned. There follows mayhem and confusion as Olivia (in this production a famous Hollywood actress) falls in love with Cesario (Viola in disguise). The play’s two comedy characters Sir Toby Belch (in this production there’s a gender swap turning him into Lady Toby Belch) and Sir Andrew Augecheek are played by two actors who are living together so are able to perform within the same Zoom frame giving them a chance to fully interact with each other – an advantage the other actors don’t have.
What makes this production stand-out is the extensive use of modern songs such as “Material Girl”, “Oops I Did It Again” and “Livin’ La Vida Loca” played and sung by a small jazz band whose members double-up as characters in the play.
Whilst the audience who could be seen either when highlighted or in Zoom’s “gallery view”, seemed to be having a great time and a number had even dressed up in 20s clothing to make an evening of it (instructions on what to wear, what to have at hand etc.) were sent out a day or two before the performance.
However, I just felt that the technical glitches and the use of Fabien as a narrator who sounded neither from the 1620s or from the 1920s but very 2020, was a bit jarring at times. Another problem I had was that I had seen this production at The Rose Playhouse last year and thoroughly enjoyed it and seeing it on a screen doesn’t just compare with seeing it live.
As I wrote in my introduction, theatrical productions on Zoom are becoming a little bit samey if you’ve seen more than one and after just three months, they may need a re-think to make them stand out from the crowd. I’m sure if you’ve just seen one production on Zoom, you’ll marvel about how it’s done but after two or three, I’m a little bit concerned that audiences will start to dwindle. As we may not be going back to live theatre anytime soon, it might mean that on-line productions need a makeover and a bit more thought before they become clichéd and repetitive.
Review by Alan Fitter
Maltings Theatre presents Shakespeare’s TWELFTH NIGHT- LIVE!
Dates: June 12th – 14th at 8.15pm
Running time: 75 minutes
CAST & CREATIVES:
Director Adam Nichols
Feste/Band Hannah Baker
Orsino/Band Will Forrester
Lady Toby Belch Anna Franklin
Sir Andrew Aguecheek Will Franklin
Maria/Band Rosa Lennox
Dancer Elena Ollett
Fabian Will Pattle
Viola Flora Squires
Malvolia Faith Turner
Olivia Emma Watson
Antonio David Widdowson
Shakespeare: Twelfth Night (Globe on Screen) [DVD]