Oh how we’ve all experienced unrequited love. Something so admirable about Shakespeare’s words is their ability to resonate with audiences four hundred years later. We’re the same lovelorn, fucked up, lust/greed/spite-driven characters now as we were then. And by Jove we’re entertaining! Watermill Theatre's 50th anniversary production of Twelfth Night (directed by Paul Hart) takes us into a fast-paced world of disguises, cross dressing and wicked meddling.
In this production Shakespeare’s gender confusion has been taken a step further with gender blind casting. Lauryn Redding’s outstanding Sir Toby, always referred to as ‘she’, together with Emma McDonald’s Antonia (rather than Antonio) pushes the play into further comedic confusion and modernises the single gender casting of years passed.
From its very beginning, Twelfth Night is a play steeped in music - with Jamie Sattertwaite’s pathetically needy Orsino and his famous declaration “If music be the food of love, play on!”. This production is a rip-roaring comedy set in the Prohibition era, and it is so filled with music you don’t know whether to sit back and laugh or pull your neighbour up and lead them onto the dancefloor (incidentally, the play started with some of the cast doing just this - one of few pieces of audience participation that hasn’t made me squirm). The production seamlessly interwove the 17th-century play into the 1920s, with a fantastic speakeasy-themed set designed by Katie Lias, and an effortlessly instrument-swapping cast jumping into music and dance. In fact music is so important in this play that a cello case is used in place of a coffin.
Though the acting could have excelled in even the bleakest of settings, the outdoor setting of the Bodleian Library courtyard played well into the performance. The second half sees Peter Duke’s Malvolio descend into madness through Maria’s meddling (Victoria Blunt’s hilariously expressive depiction). Locked up in the depths of the house it seems fitting that this imposing building towers around him as both the skies, and his mental state, fall into darkness. Duke’s terrific tragi-comic creation leads the audience through riotous laughter (his drag scene has to be seen to be believed) and down into tears, as he is another to succumb to unrequited love.
Perhaps it is fitting that just a few yards away, deep within the Bodleian archives, lies Shakespeare’s ‘First Folio’, the first printed edition of his collected works. But laying somewhat dormant as a museum piece, one feels much closer to history actually seeing his words come to life on stage through this multi-talented cast - all shining stars in comedy and music (way to make the rest of us feel untalented).
An outstanding play performed by an outstanding cast, definitely one not to be missed this summer.