Writer: William Shakespeare
Director: Paul Hart
Reviewer: Bill Avenell
Exuberant is the word that springs to mind to describe this take on Shakespeare’s comedy, Twelfth Night from The Watermill Theatre. Different is another word but not different enough to stop the Guildford faithful giving it a rousing reception at the end of the performance.
Certainly not for the traditionalist but otherwise the setting of the piece in a jazz club in the early 20th Century works a charm. One of Shakespeare’s most loved opening lines ‘‘if music be the food of love play on’’ sets the scene for an inventive musical performance which interestingly, apart from the jazz classics, is credited to the Company whose dexterity and interchanging on a number of instruments greatly adds to the fun. And the music continues from that opening jazz club gig to the final reprise of ‘’hey ho the wind and the rain’’ which brings the play to its raucous conclusion completely in keeping with what goes before.
This tale of identical twins separated by shipwreck and, unbeknown to each other, both arriving at the Illyrian court, the girl disguised as a boy, gives ample scope for mistaken identity and consequent love triangles. It also features the sub-plot of the duping of the pompous Malvolio, very well played by Peter Dukes both as the obnoxious man-servant and as the ridiculous victim of the practical joke played upon him.
As well as Dukes there is a talented young cast on show and in particular, Aruhan Galieva who plays the widowed Olivia convincingly smitten by what she thinks is a male suitor but of course is nothing of the kind. She is matched by Offue Okegbe playing the cynical ‘fool’ Feste in laid back style and by a lively Lauryn Redding as serial carouser Sir Toby Belch in another cross-dressing manoeuvre, but this time by Director Paul Hart.
Perhaps Hart takes it a step too far in this representation of Sir Toby but it certainly gives an added zest to all the gesturing and ‘double entendres’. He keeps the pace of proceedings up as the play moves slickly along using Katie Lias’ basically simple jazz club set but with the ingenious revolving doors and indeed the auditorium itself to give an informal atmosphere. This is enhanced by Tom White’s lighting plot which creates an evocative atmosphere with the players and musicians lurking in the shadows. The only real downside is a lack of balance in the sound which makes some of the diction indistinct, a major problem when already coping with Shakespeare’s language.
But to return to the music. Don’t go if you like your Shakespeare in traditional form but if you are happy with slightly alternative interpretations and particularly if you are a jazz aficionado get down to the Yvonne Arnaud. Shakespeare would have been proud of it.
Runs until Saturday 27 May 2017| Image: Scott Rylander