For the past 15 years all-male theatrical troupe Propeller have been building an impressive reputation with their fresh, engaging and brawny approach to Shakespeare. Unafraid to adapt, mash-up and edit to create a good tale it’s a testament to their innovation that cock-in-a-frock casting is this production’s least notable element.
Illyria here is a stagnant stately home, in one wing weeps Olivia for the death of her brother, in the other Sir Toby Belch and his ne’er-do-well drinking buddies keep up perpetual party. Into this world stumble shipwrecked twins Viola and Sebastian, resulting in the requisite mistaken identities, love affairs and comedic subplots. One of Shakespeare’s most beguiling comedies it is a play of light and shade, the nuance of which director Edward Hall and his actors here deftly capture.
Chief among these is Vince Leigh as Belch, who ably underscores the Bacchanalian scenes with his nagging doubt about what will happen when the music stops. He is aided by John Dougall who does some fine comedic mugging as suitor Sir Andrew Aguecheek and Liam O’Brien as the fool Feste. But really, singling out actors for praise seems slightly unfair as this is truly an ensemble piece with all the actors singing, play instruments, moving the set and keeping the whip smart pace flowing.
There are some some superb set pieces including the initial shipwreck and Aguecheek’s fight with Viola, which is here transformed into a Rocky-esque boxing bout. Designer Michael Pavelka should also be noted for his economical hall of mirrors set design which neatly captures the plays themes of surface and illusion.
Intelligent, cheeky and effortlessly enjoyable this Twelfth Night, like its holiday namesake, is an anarchic delight.