Twelfth Night (Bristol)
Entering the auditorium, the performance space is an exposed mass of cables, musical instruments, props, microphones, stools, and mini amps. The set is certainly not one I would liken to any Shakespeare I have previously witnessed. But there is something immediately charming about the cast milling around and the audience not having to make their way quietly and sensibly to their seats.
The costumes are not altogether as unrefined as the set, but reflect their characters personalities, with Sir Toby still in full Elizabethan regalia, despite his co-actors wearing modern attire. A nice touch comes with Viola's use of the audience's wardrobe, asking to borrow a coat and hat from the crowd, to disguise herself as a man called ‘Cesario'.
Smooth jazz sets the initial scene, as Duke Orsino stumbles over his words, building up to the defining line of this musically infused adaption, "if music be the food of love, play on". The cast use an array of instruments from the common set up of drums, bass and keys, to the added use of what appeared to be games console remotes. This gives an experimental feel to much of the soundtrack, which is beneficial during the more debauched or frustrated scenes.
At times it does become difficult to separate the dialogue from the music, especially when the lines are distorted by the use of mini amps. It is possible that a person who does not know the play could, at these moments, loose understanding of the plot; but to a well-seasoned Shakespeare fan, this does not cause any bother.
The players are, without any ado, sublime. Their individual interpretations of the characters' quirks and relationships with each other are spot on. Highlights come with Sir Toby and Duke Orsino's drunken serenading and the raucous party that precedes it. During which, the actors have audience members taking tequila shots, dancing with the cast, throwing soft balls around and passing takeaway pizza down the aisles of the "uncivil room".
Yet a contrasting scene where Feste, the fool, sings of death and makes known her true wisdom, displays the diversity of both the actors and the plot itself. There is nothing sadder than a clown, standing quiet, red nose in tact, without even a suggestion of a smile.
The doubling up of Viola and Sebastian, does make for some confusing dialogue towards the play's finale, but it is understandable why the decision was made.
The enactment of Malvolio, the self-righteous and haughty steward of the house, is nothing other than exquisite. Malvolio's sexually driven monologue following a letter from, who he believes to be, Olivia is accompanied by heavy bass and gold spangly hot pants. The scene successfully encapsulates the mayhem of the night's fantastically funny and skilfully interpreted performance.
After all, the bard himself wrote, ‘be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ‘em,' and these players most definitely follow his advice.