Theatrecat remains dark, as it has been since December when chemotherapy began and then ran seamlessly, in March, into lockdown and the deadening distancing that is killing theatre. It hasn’t reviewed online shows.
But what the tiny Ipswich company, Red Rose Chain, has achieved here in the time of social-distancing is so oddly brilliant that it needs a memorial. If theatre is “two planks and a passion” fuelled by live audience reaction and tight onstage chemistry, this shows what happens when Covid-19 takes away the planks, the live audience and the cast proximity, to rely on just the passion, production and determination. And somehow it’s still theatrical.
Normally their annual centrepiece is outdoors: Theatre in the Forest at Jimmy’s Farm (and next year an exciting new site). That being impossible, the mainly young cast were rehearsed at home, stayed there and with the magic of green-screen technology appear in a 1930s Suffolk seaside world, gambolling in front of sand and beach huts, uncannily responsive to one another and cool in ensemble. The big musical numbers, with choreography, are downright eerie to think about, though actually at the time you don’t.
This means of course that Viola can double as Sir Toby Belch (an interesting Shakespearian first) and Olivia as Andrew Aguecheek. Ailis Duff and Fizz Waller do this with panache (love Aguecheek’s little blond ‘tache). Luke Wilson’s noble Orsino is another treat, and Scott Ellis is a moustachiod lounge-lizard Malvolio, more than worth seeing in yellow stockings and long-johns.
Inventiveness is the key: great use is made of Katy Frost’s lovely Hopperish seaside scenes (and sunsets). The eavesdropping scene is in a fairground with the watchers peering through a jokey portrait-board, Olivia and Orsino have beach-hut headquarters, and the duel involves plastic spades. Joanna Carrick’s direction is clear and joyful as ever; the editing of its 71 minutes by David Newborn must have been a nightmare, but comes across as dreamy, festive, fast and intelligent.
The play is, naturally, much abridged but loses little by that as an experience. I”m particularly fussy about Twelfth Night, and judge it by key moments – the willow-cabin speech, and “I was adored once”, and the dose of bitters that is Malvolio’s swearing revenge. All passed with honours. Malvolio’s spitting “PACK of you” particularly.
You’re unlikely to find a more uplifting show in this strange, frustrating summer. Enjoy. It’s all they ask of you. Here’s Shakespeare-mouse, impressed…