"Gangnam Style" seems to be everywhere these days, so it's probably not too surprising to see the quirky dance craze turn up in this fun production of Twelfth Night from Custom/Practice. Rae Macken gives Shakespeare's comedy of mistaken identity and convoluted romantic entanglements a fresh spin with a modern styling and a young ensemble cast. Macken even introduces Shakespeare to the concept of text messaging to communicate between the lovers.
The plot revolves around the conceit of twin siblings both believing the other to be dead after a shipwreck. Viola disguises herself as Cesario, a young man who obtains employment with the Duke Orsino, suitor to Lady Olivia. Cesario/Viola falls for Orsino, Olivia is in love with Cesario, Sebastian returns and is smitten by Olivia, and the straight-laced Malvolio is fooled into believing Olivia is in love with him. A perfect tsunami of confusion and misunderstanding with added cross-dressing.
Alex Whitworth makes a sweet Viola. That she's not in the least boyish in the role of Cesario simply adds to the hilarity of the piece. There's a good deal of bawdy physical comedy between James Corley's Sir Toby Belch, a kangaroo-onesie-wearing lager lout, and Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Richard Keiss), his lanky and equally drink-sodden friend. Malvolio, the courtier to Olivia is initially rather underplayed by Fred Gray with a lack of the overweaning supercilious smugness that gets up everyone's noses, but he comes into his own after he's subjected to Maria's (Funmi Ogunleye) cruel trick.
Making his professional debut as Feste, Nathanael Campbell demonstrates a fine singing voice and a broad comedy sensibility, though at times is too shouty. Otherwise, it's a nuanced performance suggesting exciting potential. Shanaya Rafaat's Olivia doesn't seem desperately upset at the beginning at the loss of her father and brother, sparking into life later with the arrival of Cesario and then Sebastian.
Jonathan Alcock's set of a couple of angled flats and a box has an elegant simplicity in the small performance space, transforming from drawing room to rocky coast, to wood, to Malvolio's prison with minimal interruption of the action.
While remaining true to the original text, this exuberant production gives Shakespeare's well-loved comedy a sparkling freshness.
- Carole Gordon