Southwark Playhouse, London – until 9 February 2019
Anna Girvan’s music festival themed production has plenty of nice elements to it – but can get carried away with itself at times.
This new and inclusive production of Shakespeare’s comedy works well with the music festival theme, with director Anna Girvan making the most of the comedy to be found in the script that has been nicely condensed into 90 minutes of pure joy.
By setting the action of Ilyria at a music festival, the production effectively incorporates music into this tale of confused identities – which is particularly useful in some of the speeches which are sung-through on occasion by the cast – reminding us all of the poetic nature of Shakespeare’s language. But this production of Twelfth Night also has more twists and turns than in any other production of this play that I have seen previously – particularly considering that some of the cast are playing two different characters that towards the end are on stage at the same time – creatively and delightfully handled by Girvan.
Of course, by having the cast of six performing two characters each means that they have to effectively transform between each character by the simplest of techniques – including simply removing a hat or jacket. There are occasions when it is difficult to keep up with which character is being portrayed (hence why paying attention to each performer explaining which character they are at the beginning pays off), but overall it keeps the production lively and the audience on their toes.
Anna Reid’s gloriously colourful and joyful set design, effectively draws the audience into the story and allows the cast to make full use of the audience (so if you chose the front seats in this unreserved seating space – do so at your peril) – adding to the festival vibe perfectly. Equally impressive is the way in which it is such an open and inclusive production, for example it incorporates British Sign Language successfully in some scenes and feels like a genuine celebration of people from all backgrounds.
It has to be said that there is a great energy and enthusiasm that runs throughout this production, which takes the comedy to new levels. All of the cast give their all to the characters which can come across as slightly too over the top in places and affect the strength of the production’s ability to convey the plot. However, it doesn’t detract from the sheer joy that this version of Twelfth Night provides overall.
Performance wise, there is much to be enjoyed. Caroline Parker as Sir Toby Belch and Antonia delivers a brilliant comical performance who delights every time she appears on stage, while Becky Barry as Viola and Sebastian is energetic and committed to both characters. Elsewhere, Luke Wilson as Malvolio and Air Andrew Aguecheek has a brilliantly natural approach to comedy, while Liv Spencer as Maria and Valentina is strong support and utterly convincing in both roles.
Overall, this is a warmly affectionate production that celebrates inclusivity and is wonderfully entertaining from beginning to end.
By Emma Clarendon
Twelfth Night will continue to play at the Southwark Playhouse until the 9th February.