Twelfth Night – Nelson Mandela School, Birmingham

Reviewer: John Kennedy

Writer: William Shakespeare

Director: Robin Belfield

‘This (school) hath a pleasant seat; the air, Nimbly and sweetly recommends itself…Unto our gentle senses.’

(Didn’t quite work out for Duncan, mind.)

A charméd welcome indeed awaits on arrival at Nelson Mandela School, situated almost at the epicentre of Birmingham’s celebrated Balti Triangle. Formal niceties observed with busy bonhomie courtesy of host headteacher, Amy Lassman, an entourage of Year 6 ‘Shakespeare Ambassadors’ lead a whistle-stop tour of the building before being escorted to their most impressive Drama Suite. The lucky beggars!

Part of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s (RSC) nationwide Schools Tour of Twelfth Night, visiting Blackpool, Hull, Suffolk and many in between, their mission is, ‘Bringing Shakespeare and live performance to those who have never seen his work live and to younger audiences. First Encounters with Shakespeare productions are 90-minute, abridged version of Shakespeare’s plays.’ They do that alright and very saucy messengers to the cause they are.

The RSC has form on this going way back to their pre-Covid invitation to a Stoke-on-Trent junior school Tempest project – laser-sharp focused kids ready to reverse-spell Prospero the moment he let his wizardly cloak down.

Visiting school pupils have been herded into their lines as a cohort of ship-wreck rescuers – ropes at the ready. Host pupils are invited to extemporise mime/text walk-on parts: a ten-year-old tot transforms into the marriage priest, marvellous in comedy-cardboard mitre. A naughty, Pérola Congo, as Maria, finger-mimes a heart-love pointing gesture to reinforce the kids’ understanding of very confused ongoing love interests. Twelfth Night – The Lord of Misrule. Honestly!

The ensemble doubling, possibly tripling-up, cast is on top of its giddy game. Emma Manton’s Malvolio, as a caustic stickler for the antithesis of fun could hardly be more imagined. She’s an eye out for any chance of working up the kids, though. Eliciting faux sympathy for a loveless agenda, she pours her heart out.

Clipboard bully and frigid, rigid-regimentals given – her stewardship encompasses a sorry cohort of piddle-pots sponging off the respective Courts of Orsino, stage magnet, Ibraheem Toure and Titanic Tunnel-of-Love dream-boat disaster, love-pandemic victim – Laura Smithers’ Olivia.

It’s all too just silly. Twelfth Night? Thank goodness for love there’s no 13th on the heart-break calendar horizon. There’s a deliriously, serpentine Feste, from Alice Blundell. Stanton Wight juggles Aguecheek and Sebastion with chimeric distraction – far too good-looking for his own good and ought to know it. Tyreke Leslie needs to properly behave himself as a door-frame challenging, Toby Belch. What, with swilling (not) bottles of ‘rum’ in front of innocent school children, is the world coming to? Daily Mail side-bar of shame horror.

The kids are totally on-board: supposedly young adults in love behaving sadly? What’s not to like? Ninety minutes and counting, these potential, valiant, Thespes-in-waiting, enjoyed, with incredibly polite behaviour, the passage of a delirium of Shakespearean full-on bonkers. The Kids are alright – the supposéd grown-ups are the worry.

Runs Until 21 September 2022 and on tour

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The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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