Blue Elephant Theatre, London – until 6 May 2017
“What happens in Illyria, stays in Illyria.”
Last year you couldn’t move for productions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and whilst it hasn’t quite gotten that bad yet, it looks like Twelfth Night is 2017’s popular choice. The National and the Royal Exchange have already tackled it, Emma Rice will be casting her inimitable spell over it from next month and over in Camberwell, the Original Impact Theatre Company are working their own actor-musician magic on Shakespeare’s comedy.
And you have a sense that Rice would approve of the invention of this young company, particularly in its opening half. This is Illyria as expat territory – tropical house blaring from the decks, tropical prints blazoned across shirts, “to beer or not to beer” is scrawled on the back wall, there’s even the suggestion that the opening shipwreck is a booze cruise gone wrong. And it is in this world of stunted responsibility that the production finds real purchase.
Music really has been the food of love for director Sam Dunstan and his company and there’s plenty of inspired moments here – Dinos Pschyogios‘ Andrew Aguecheek’s opening shot is simply genius, Cesario’s first appearance is soundtracked by a mournful trombone playing ‘If I Were A Boy’, the version of Gaga’s ‘Perfect Illusion’ that plays over Sebastian and Antonio’s wordless capers sounds just lovely. It’s all a brightly fresh take on the classic play.
There’s intelligence in some of the readings too – the idea that boredom and an excess of beer and Bacardi is what drives the malevolence against Timothy Weston’s Malvolio, Weston’s beautifully-spoken restraint making him a more empathetic figure, the hints that Andi Jashari’s Orsino isn’t actually convinced by Katie Turner’s Viola in her laddish get-up. There’s altogether less sexual confusion as straight-up mistaken identity, making the production funny rather than sexy, though James Morley’s Sebastian aptly rouses the loins of all he comes into contact with!
If I had any complaint, I would have loved there to be more music post-interval – there does feel a bit of a rush to get to the end, and personally, putting Malvolio in heels as well as everything else felt a step too far. But otherwise I found myself rather impressed by Original Impact’s work here – ‘play on’ indeed.