Rose Playhouse, London – until 5 May 2019
Guest reviewer: Emily Schofield
A Shakespearean time machine: The 1920s puts Twelfth Night into a completely new perspective.
It is well understood by most people that William Shakespeare’s plays are an excellent way of contextualising the world and society that he lived in – as well as his own political and social views. And therefore, modernising his pieces usually involve losing an aspect of this core message. Somewhere along the way, an element of the original text has to get lost in translation – which can make it incredibly difficult for the piece to communicate itself as fluently and emotively as the original. However, Ovo’s Twelfth Night masters this brilliantly.
The 95 minute piece features an abridged version of the play, with some original text, as well as jazz covers of modern day pop songs. Set on a cruise ship in the 1920s, the setting couldn’t get further from Shakespeare’s original context. However, somehow, it works.
On the whole, the music (directed by Tom Cagnoni) is very well used within the performance. The live jazz band makes the experience feel much more immersive and enjoyable, and the actors perform the songs excellently. Some of the numbers even provide extra humour to the piece, for example Viola singing Britney Spears’ ‘Oops I Did It Again’ after realising that Olivia has developed feelings for her.
Although there were times when the songs pulled me from the reality of the piece and confused me a little: Katy Perry’s ‘Last Friday Night’ for example, doesn’t make as much sense to the plot of the show and references modern day objects like phones and computers.
This seems very bizarre as everything else in the piece feels like it is trying to stay historically accurate and so to include these songs with their original modern lyrics pulled me out of the piece. I think if maybe some of the language had been changed slightly to suit the context of the piece it wouldn’t have been an issue, but it was certainly an interesting choice.
The set (designed by Simon Nicholas) and location of the show feels incredibly appropriate. The small upper section of the Rose Playhouse is used as the entire performance space and has been designed to look like the deck of a cruise ship. Although very simplistic it is a really effective technique. The only thing which is a little less obvious is the use of the piano as a boat.
Occasionally, the piano was turned around to be used as the body of a ship which was then dragged around the stage by two people whilst the characters “on board” continued the scene. Despite seeing what they were trying to do, it didn’t seem to work as well as the rest of the set and props and the movements of the boat were quite stagnant and blocky. However, I think it was a clever use of space and made the transitions between scenes much easier and faster.
The performances of the cast were the true treasures of this piece. Malvolia (Faith Turner) was fantastic, bringing both comedy and heartbreak throughout the piece. The entire cast had impeccable comedic timing and were a pleasure to watch. I was almost disappointed that the piece was as short as it was as I wanted to get to know the characters a little bit more than is possible within 95 minutes. Although, it should be noted that the piece had been cut very well as it neither felt rushed nor dragged out at any point, which is very challenging when trying to condense a play to such an restricted run time.
Overall, Twelfth Night is a unique and enjoyable experience which shows the play in a context you would never normally expect. It is filled with fun and laughter and creates a brilliant night out.
By Emily Schofield
Twelfth Night will continue to play at the Rose Playhouse until the 5th May.