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Twelfth Night – The Scoop, London

Writer: William Shakespeare

Director: Rae Mcken

Reviewer: Scott Matthewman

It is a sign of how much cruft there can be in a Shakespeare play that cutting Twelfth Night down to just an hour and fifteen minutes, as director and adapter Rae Mcken has done for the Scoop’s sixteenth annual season of free open-air theatre, retains all the touchpoints of the comedy.

And yet, for all the elision and compression, Mcken’s script and cast seem to drag themselves through the script for the first half of the show. Lines are declaimed to the wind, emotions are pronounced rather than believably expressed. The interruptions of Acushal-Tara Kupe’s Feste, which should enliven proceedings, are dominated by her singing of cod Elizabethan dirges that instead further dampen the mood.

A casualty of this malaise is Melanie Gleeson’s Viola, whose relationship with her master Orsino and his would-be lover Olivia (who instead falls for Viola in her male persona, Cesario) ought to be as strong as the play’s comedic side plots.

Unfortunately, despite a sterling attempt from Heidi Lynch as Olivia, the romantic subplots are completely overshadowed by the antics of Olivia’s household, dominated by Lorenzo Martelli’s Sir Toby Belch. Even then, it takes a while for his double-act with Feyesa Wakjira’s Andrew Aguecheek to start to fly.

The turning point in the production comes with the introduction of Itoya Osagiede’s Malvolio. In ensuring that the manservant’s biggest crime is his own vanity, the deceptions that Toby, Andrew and Veronica Beatrice Lewis’s Maria play upon him are free of malice, and all the more enjoyable to watch for that.

And then, suddenly, all the rest starts falling back into place. Maybe in part because the nearby pop-up bars start to thin out and the background noise dissipates, but characters who previously had to noisily declaim their lines begin to deepen and become more rounded, particularly Heidi Lynch’s Olivia.

Feste, too, comes into her own, Kupe joking and singing her way through the role that feels far more satsifyingly integrated than her earlier appearances.

True, the emergence of George Caporn’s Sebastian, and the confusion that exists due to his similarity to Viola’s male disguise, has been better mined for its farcical content by other productions. But the action does at least flow satisfyingly, in jarring comparison to this production’s earlier scenes.

And by the time all deception is uncovered and couples pair off for the finale – in combinations which, thankfully, abandon some of the sexism inherent in Shakespeare’s original – there is a sense of a production redeemed.

Continues until 1 September 2019 | Image: Liz Isles

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The Reviews Hub London is under the editorship of John Roberts.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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