Watermill Theatre - Twelfth Night
6th April to 6th May 2017.
Review from Newbury Theatre.
Following his production of Romeo + Juliet last year, director Paul Hart has given a similar treatment to Twelfth Night with a young and energetic cast and lots of music, in the usual actor/musician style – it could almost be called Twelfth Night The Musical.
Starting in Orsino’s palace – actually The Elephant Jazz Club – there’s a raucous introduction from the company, including Georgia on My Mind and Mad World, finally brought to order by Orsino (Jamie Satterthwaite). Scene changes after that are accompanied by more music, which sometimes distracts from the text.
Twelfth Night is strong on comedy, and this production certainly plays it for laughs. The comic quartet of Sir Toby (Lauryn Redding), Sir Andrew (Mike Slader), Feste (dignified and thoughtful, by Offue Okegbe) and Maria (Victoria Blunt) pull out all the stops, not always successfully. Lauryn Redding has magnificent body language but her clownish Sir Toby is a caricature and the drunkenness is unconvincing. Mike Slader, upper class twit, is genuinely funny in a likeable performance. Maria is the brains of the outfit, and Victoria Blunt needs to be more feisty.
Rebecca Lee’s understated Viola was a very natural and convincing performance, contrasting well with the general flamboyance. I didn’t really get Aruhan Galieva’s Olivia, veering between flirty and serious; I thought it needed more gravitas.
Peter Dukes gave an excellent comic performance as Malvolio. The scene where he finds Maria’s letter has the quartet hiding behind a double bass and is beautifully choreographed with spot-on timing. In Act 2, here’s Malvolio like you’ve never seen him before: yellow stockinged and cross-gartered and very little else.
Adding to the gender bending, we had ‘Sir Toby’ as a ‘she’, although still marrying Maria at the end, and Antonia (Emma McDonald) as the sea captain with an unrequited crush on Sebastian (Stuart Wilde). I had never interpreted his/her line “I do adore thee so” in that way before! Emma McDonald’s dismay at the end when Sebastian hitches up with Olivia is palpable.
Romeo + Juliet is on for a week in May after Twelfth Night finishes (Lauryn Redding is superb as the nurse) and they are running in repertoire for a week in July. They share the same set, designed by Katy Lias, with balcony, bar area below and raised plain stage.
It doesn’t all hit the mark, but the music (created and adapted by the cast) is exciting and well done, and there are some very funny scenes.
Review from the British Theatre Guide and the Newbury Weekly News.
The Watermill Theatre has an absolute winner on its hands with its rumbustious production of Twelfth Night.
From the moment you enter the beautiful grounds, newspaper placards inform us of shipwrecks and scandal and Illyria’s most-wanted Antonio and rewards.
Katie Lias’s glorious set creates the “Elephant Jazz Club” of the 1920s with decadent, arched mirrors that revolve to reveal the bar, plush curtains and side tables dressed in crisp white cloths and opulent lamps creating a cabaret-style format.
Audience members are encouraged to dance with the cast as the jazz tunes are performed by these incredibly zestful actor-musicians and they enthusiastically oblige.
All of this before the play properly begins. This is going to be a very different interpretation of Shakespeare’s story of mistaken identity, love triangles, excesses and comic fun.
Jamie Satterthwaite’s splendid Orsino sets the mood with the line “if music be the food of love, play on”. This cast do just that with verve and impressive musicianship with songs from the likes of Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington as well as original tunes created by the cast and they sing superbly.
Overseeing the proceedings is the guitar-playing clown Feste (Offue Okegbe), especially when twins Viola and the sultry Sebastian (Stuart Wilde) are shipwrecked, each thinking that the other is lost at sea, but he is finally rescued by the gutsy Antonia (Emma McDonald).
Rebecca Lee is impressive as the resourceful Viola who seeks the disguise of a young man Cesario and becomes the servant to Orsino. He is in love with Olivia, the feisty Aruhan Galieva, and sends Cesario to woo Olivia on his behalf but becomes besotted by her, creating a mistaken love triangle.
As Sir Toby Belch, Lauryn Redding is outstanding in creating the pompous, drunken character and, together with the rich gauche Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Mike Slader), they carouse into the early hours, much to the annoyance of the virtuous Malvolio.
Maria (Victoria Blunt) together with Sir Toby and Sir Aguecheek plan to get revenge on Malvolio and set up an elaborate deception plan by convincing him that Olivia is in love with him and plant a letter asking him to wear yellow cross-gartered stockings and to constantly smile at everyone.
The transformation is utterly hilarious as the conspirators hide behind a double bass case, as a substitute for the box hedge, but this humiliation drives Malvolio into madness in a stunningly powerful performance from Peter Dukes.
This highly talented company, many of whom had appeared in last year's highly successful Romeo and Juliet, are directed with panache by Paul Hart who creates many magical and inventive theatrical moments and is tremendous fun.
They richly deserved the standing ovation on press night and it should not be missed.
There are reviews from WhatsOnStage ("by the time all is resolved with a final glorious jamming session, the audience is begging the brass to 'play on' long after the last curtain call" - 4 stars), The Reviews Hub ("a fun and energetic production" - 4 stars), the Henley Standard ("this is Shakespeare as you have never quite seen it before, and you get the impression that the Bard himself would have loved [it]... most impressive").