Writer: William Shakespeare
Music: Grant Olding
Director: Jonathan Munby
Reviewer: Ruth Jepson
“If music be the food of love…”
There can’t be a member of the theatre-going public who isn’t able tocomplete that quote, and it’s one that English Touring Theatre have taken to heart in their production of Twelfth Night. Through piano melodies and acoustic guitars Shakespeare’s most famous comedy has been transformed from an Elizabethan tale to an Irish folk song, thanks to the lyrical singing of Feste the Fool (a truly fabulous Brain Protheroe, thankfully ditching the motley for a more early 1900s gypsy pauper look). The music frames the whole piece, giving atmosphere to scenes which could otherwise by very dry due to the language of its author. From the very start his haunting guitar playing sets the scene of the ship wreck, undercut by some deeply affective lighting by Chris Davey.
The shipwreck introduces us to Viola (Rose Reynolds), a gentlewoman down in her fortunes, who decides that the only way to get back on top is to imitate the brother she thinks is dead, and put herself in service of Duke Orsino (Jake Fairbrother, who is so gorgeous you can understand why she immediately falls in love with him). Orsino is in love with Olivia (Rebecca Johnson), and guess who she falls in love with in return? Hint – it’s not Orsino. Twelfth Night is classic Shakespeare with its mistaken identities and Comedia Dell Arte style stock characters. ETT’s production has updated the setting slightly, and uses the aforementioned music plus a good dose of – often totally hilarious – physical comedy reminiscent of Jaques Lecoq’s classic clowning. It makes the story accessible even for non-Shakespeare veterans, and would in fact be an excellent show to introduce the uninitiated or uninspired to the Bard’s work.
Of particular mention has to be the three foolish characters. Protheroe’s Feste is an absolute delight, played as a slyly clever puppet master with delicious knowing gestures to the audience at the sheer ridiculousness of everyone around him. Then there are Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew Aguecheek (David Fielder and Milo Twomey) who are masters of the drunken stumble and gurning face. From the serious characters, watch out for Hugh Ross’s Malvolio, whose switch from grumpy butler to impassioned lover had the audience eating from the palm of his hand. Special mention must also go to Ross Waiton as Antonio – his relationship with Sebastian (Michael Benz) has been given a very modern update which adds a whole new dimension to what is usually a forgettable character.
At three hours long, Twelfth Night could feel too long, especially towards the inevitable end reveals. Thankfully a mixture of Jonathan Munby’s excellent directing, Grant Olding’s beautiful music and some gloriously understated movement pieces choreographed by Lucy Hind lift the scenes which could drag out. The whole thing looks amazing, and the three hours while away remarkably quickly. Definitely a show not to be missed.
A Sheffield Theatres and English Touring Theatre co-production, Photo by Mark Douet.
Runs until: Saturday 18th October