Writer: William Shakespeare
Director: Paul Hart
Reviewer: David Jobson
Last year with a cast of young actors Paul Hart made his debut as the Watermill Theatre’s new artistic director with a production of Romeo + Juliet. A revival that used the tiny Watermill Theatre to its full potential in many creative ways. Now, for the theatre’s 50th anniversary, Hart continues his success with Twelfth Night.
Having set Romeo + Juliet in an urban underworld, Hart has grounded Twelfth Night in the Jazz Age. An era when prohibition was in place and people took high risks to find some form of pleasure. With Katie Lias’ intimate underground nightclub set and Tom White’s atmospheric and vibrant lighting, the production immerses the audience in this smoky, dirty yet vibrant location.
In a play where morality clashes with mirth, women dress up as men, and mistaken identity ensues, all with a twinge of underlying melancholia, the colourful setting and constant rhythmic interjections all combine to bring plenty of adrenaline to this topsy-turvy play. Twelfth Night is arguably one of Shakespeare’s most musical of plays and the heart of this production lies firmly in this element. The company perform a mixture of Shakespeare’s own songs and original numbers with alacrity – almost to the point of exhaustion – making Jamie Satterthwaite’s line as Count Orsino (“If music be the food of love, play on”) all the more on point.
Feste, played serenely by Offue Okegbe, stands around watching the action like an ethereal figure. He appears to bring back the shipwrecked Viola to life, and during Malvolio’s imprisonment, the cast shares his lines of torment, surrounding the wronged man confusing him further.
Peter Dukes gives a shrewd performance as Malvolio and his transformation into the yellow stockings costume (or lack of) is hilarious if a tad too ridiculous. At times it feels like Hart has missed an opportunity throughout the production to play on the tensions that the prohibition era brings especially considering the plays constant use of alcohol. Rebecca Lee has a winning charm as Viola as she eagerly takes on the disguise of Orsino’s manservant, whilst reluctantly receiving the attentions of Olivia. Stuart Wilde meanwhile delivers with clarity the few scenes he has as her lost twin brother Sebastian.
Lauryn Redding is a boisterous Sir Toby Belch and alongside Victoria Blunt take the opportunity to show a genuine relationship between Sir Toby and Maria. Mike Slader portrays a weedy and pitiful Sir Andrew Aguecheek, trying to impress with his dance moves and the use of French. Aruhan Galieva gives an exuberant portrayal of Olivia, however, Galieva does have a tendency to emphasise every word or syllable instead of letting the natural rhythm of the language to flow.
Although Twelfth Night doesn’t take full advantage of its chosen setting, it can’t be denied that this is a fun and energetic production and proves that Hart is ensuring in its Golden Anniversary year that the Watermill Theatre is safe and will still be producing some outstandingly creative theatre.
Runs until 6 May 2017 | Image: Contributed