Twelfth Night is probably second only to A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the list of the most popular of all of Shakespeare’s comedies. Indeed, this is the third production of the play in Oxford since May. Creation can usually be relied upon to bring a fresh twist and this is certainly the case with this production.
We have eight people who have been shipwrecked on a desert island and, in true Radio 4 tradition, they find they have a copy of the Complete Works of Shakespeare. A play is selected, parts are allocated and thus we begin. The costumes and props – appropriately for the central conceit – were derived from found and recycled objects. A neat framing device but one that left some audience members rather confused – once you had grasped it, everything slotted into place but was not as clearly conveyed as it could have been.
The rooftop amphitheatre of the Said Business School is an unconventional location but works well as an intimate space. It is, however, very open to the elements and on press night, the elements decided to join in the fun. We had the wind and rain as well as some rather unwelcome thunder. The performance was briefly halted but continued with only a few moments where the opening of umbrellas punctuated the action. Creation do have an indoor venue available onsite and so no performance will be cancelled – given the vagaries of the English summer, this is no bad thing!
I cannot fault the energy and commitment of the cast. They through themselves into the play with huge enthusiasm – physically and vocally. There is a lot of physical comedy in the production and this clearly works to their advantage in a city where many audience members will be tourists for whom English is not their first language.
I do, however, have a few doubts over the interpretation of some of the characters. I, like many others, love the play and have my own ideas as to how I see the text coming to life on the stage. Andrew Macbean handles the hauteur of Malvolio very well but I felt his performance is undermined by the exaggerated humour of the famous yellow stocking scene and from there I found it hard to re-engage with the character and his humiliation. Similarly Melanie MacHugh seems to be a little lost in her opening scenes as Olivia – struggling to find the right tinge of melancholy. She opens up to embrace her new love with great passion – but I was not convinced by her emotional journey.
I very much enjoyed the sparky portrayal of Maria by Janet Greaves and she was well-matched by the lively Feste of Antony Jardine. As Sir Andrew Aguecheek (surely one of the best character names in all of Shakespeare), Stephen Carlile is at his playful best – though I would have liked a little more sense of danger from his Orsino.
Overall, this is a bright and new take on a classic play - one that should be well-received by those new to the play as well as those who are familiar with the text.