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Propeller’s Twelfth Night – The Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury

Writer: William Shakespeare

Text Adaptation: Edward Hall and Roger Warren

Director: Edward Hall

Reviewer: Nathanael Kent


Propeller's Twelfth NIghtPropeller’s all-male casting adds an interesting dimension to Twelfth Night. In Joseph Chance’s Viola, we have a man playing a woman disguised as a man, namely Cesario. And, like The Taming of the Shrew, with which this production runs in repertory, disguise is integral to the play.

It helps, therefore, that Viola does genuinely look like her lost twin brother, Sebastian (Dan Wheeler), so much so that one has to do a double take when they are reunited in the play’s denouement. This offers the play a credibility which many productions lack, for one has to be able to accept, and understand why, Olivia would be fooled into thinking one is the other.

Chance brings a beautiful tenderness to the opening scene, in which she is rescued by a sea captain, and but there is a distinct lack of chemistry as Viola’s relationship with Orsino supposedly develops, despite a nice melodramatic turn from Christopher Heyward as the latter. Ben Allen’s Olivia has a distinct air of elegance about her, a nice contrast to Gary Shelford’s often very funny Maria.

Chris Myles, while initially pompous and slightly creepy individual, conjures up a jovial glee during the famous box-tree scene, after which he sports a pair of rather resplendent yellow stockings. However the ridiculousness of his costume is undermined by further ridiculous attire such as Aguecheek’s nightwear, and ultimately the hilarity of the whole situation is lost.

As with their Shrew, Propeller resort to nudity for cheap laughs, rather than mining the rich humour of the text itself. Amusement should arise from the situations Shakespeare presents us with and bare bottoms do not embellish that. Rather they demean it.

Michael Pavelka’s design appears to be strongly influenced by film noir, with its monochrome cloudscape, tarnished mirrors and Ben Ormerod’s shadowy lighting. This helps to accentuate the darkness in the piece, and reminds us that this is in fact Shakespeare’s most bittersweet of comedies.

It makes for an interesting pairing with The Taming of the Shrew, and while this is very much the superior play, both explore the idea of disguise revealing truth, and the blurred line between illusion and reality. When characters are pretending to be someone else, they are most themselves.

Edward Hall’s production is efficient enough, with a beautiful rendition of The Rain It Raineth Every Day closing the evening, but it never scales the heights of a great Twelfth Night. The reunion between the two twins should be deeply moving, but here, sadly, it doesn’t touch the heart.

Photo: Manuel Harlan

Runs until 28th June

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