Writer: William Shakespeare
Director: Adam Nichols
Suffering from a little cabin fever? Well, how about escaping aboard the SS Illyria with a G&T in hand and scandal unfolding directly from your lounge? This is precisely what The Maltings Theatre is promising with their abridged, musically interactive version of Shakespeare’s classic romantic comedy Twelfth Night – Live! Following a successful run, the team don their best cocktail dresses, headpieces and tap shoes to stage this classical narrative in the Roaring Twenties.
Embracing the medium, where the terms ‘Zoom’ and ‘Live Theatre’ collide – one expects chaos to ensue. Rather than allow it to wash over them, the entire team at Maltings Theatre channel this energy into their performances, aesthetic, and instead of ignoring the platform, work the logistics into the narrative; allowing us to capture multiple angles for dialogue, incorporate editing and animated effects with surprisingly unique outcomes. Inventive and playful, this live incarnation of the play removes aspects but maintains a core of the original narrative.
Sebastian may be absent, but this enables us to get to know our fellow guests – particularly Fabian and Viola, carried well by Will Pattle and Flora Squires. Pattle, in particular, takes the troubling task of introducing the premise of the show, the balance of audience video and audio and switching between camera views. This format comes with drawbacks, as occasional scenes will feature a cameo from Davina in Sunderland as her husband Brian fills his fourth glass, but, if anything, it adds an element of chaotic merriment. The characterisation is there, with Anna Franklin and Emma Watson bringing an intense presence to more extensive roles like Lady Toby Belch or Olivia. As a musical, vocals range from spectacular, courtesy of Hannah Baker and Faith Turner, to acceptable.
As for the musical element, the inclusive ripples of Jukebox moments bring additional character-elements but hinder on occasion. The live instrumental accompaniment conjures feelings of those concert halls and theatres, from what feels so long ago, enhancing the quality of the production. Adam Nichols’ artistic direction, no doubt relishing the ability to shift the production to the digital platform, rouses the cast together as they take on the role of stagehands, technicians, and the previously mentioned musicians. Much of the music has a comedic focus, with characters passing items between frames, and on occasion allowing for a solo piece to build sentiment.
Belting out numbers from Rihanna to Radiohead, tying these artists into the works of Shakespeare is no easy feat – particularly with Twelfth Night, a usually complex choice with a variety of pitfalls. When it works, it’s a triumphant burst of luxury, lunacy and hedonism entirely befitting of the SS Illyria. If it falters, it comes off as a break in the production’s energy and pacing, a seeming sore thumb of artistic choices. When the cast gets going, celebrating the roaring Twenties with a whiskey or toddy, there’s a wealth of enjoyment emanating.
What this concoction ends up as, is a quality, fun piece of interactive theatre which refrains from shying into an easy escape online. Malting’s Theatre dive headfirst into tying the Bard to the bar, relishing the enthusiasm as they plant their flag squarely into the comedic side of Twelfth Night, offering up a few noted moments of committed drama. An authentic send-off to a Shakespearian comedy, the lords, ladies (and yes, the rabble) into the story, Twelfth Night – Live! may be a vast departure from Shakespeare’s original, but this modern retelling has heart, laughs and a 20’s twist worth getting sea legs for.
Continues streaming live 13/14 June 2020