Director: Wayne Jordan
Reviewer: Monica Insinga
Twelfth Night, The Abbey Theatre’s production in celebration of the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth, marks the return of Wayne Jordan to the Abbey to direct his first Shakespeare play for them. One of the most performed comedies of all time, Twelfth Night was last produced at the Abbey over 30 years ago; however, this production strives to be different, it follows Jordan’s trademark style, and transforms what Jordan calls “in form, a comedy” (programme note) into something much darker.
Underlining the unhappiness in the subtext of the play, Jordan chooses to let the audience focus on the play’s subtitle, What You Will followed by a reversed question mark, as displayed on the backdrop in large bold letters for us to see throughout the whole play. Jordan’s message is very clear: at a time of grief people can make very bad choices; so, he wants us to question the choices of these characters. This is true especially at the end when, after the secrets have been revealed, the unions the characters have gotten themselves into are revealed in all of their hypocrisy. The audience is left wondering: now that the characters seem to have established their identities based on their sexual desires, can they be happy in these rushed choices, or are they fooling themselves?
Jordan, who is no novice in directing theatre with a strong musical element, uses originally composed music (by the imaginative Tom Lane, performed by very talented musician Alex Petcu, with a number of songs beautifully performed by Ger Kelly’s Feste), stark lighting and costume designing (by Simon Mills and Emma Fraser) to emphasise the palpable contrasts at the basis of this production. The cast, composed by both new and up and coming faces in Irish theatre with a couple of strong character actors, give mostly sound performances; a special mention goes to some of the supporting characters, played with such mastery by Nick Dunning (a devilish Sir Toby Belch), Elaine Fox (a confident female Valentine), Ger Kelly (a compelling Shakespearian fool, Feste), Mark Lambert (Sir Andrew Aguecheek, who perfectly complements his “friend” Sir Toby), Ruth McGill (a Maria that steals the show) and Mark O’Halloran (playing the abused Malvolio pitch-perfectly).
In Jordan’s vision: “The queering of class, gender and sexuality is at the core of the play’s alchemy.” Consequently, these aspects of the play are openly examined in this staging, compelling the audience to either embracing the director’s vision or rejecting it. Jordan is certainly forcing the audience to reflect on their reactions to expressions of bullying and queer sexuality, by focusing on the sheer contrasts created by comedic elements.
Whether you choose to agree with the vision of this production or not, despite some stage inaccuracies and, at times, lack of continuity, this is a transforming and thoroughly entertaining production, that will certainly arouse the passions of many.
Runs until 24th May 2014.