This is something new. I say this because you might find it hard to believe. Is there anything more commonplace these days than a theatre company that claims to have radicalised Shakespeare? And yet Filter show that it can be done.
On one level their interpretation of Twelfth Night is profoundly irrereverent. Certainly it would be worthwhile to make yourself familiar with the play, if you aren’t already, before you go: this is a broad brush, edited-highlights impression that plays very fast and very loose with the narrative. If you aren’t sure what’s going on, the bare stage inhabited by mostly silent musicians won’t help you out, and while the interpretation of the text is expertly and clearly done it derives a lot of its energy from the way it alternately supports and subverts its intended meaning.
On another, however, its reverence is obsessive. More than any other interpretation this is a play where, sitting in the audience, my experience was more like what I’d imagine an actual groundling than I’ve had before. This was a bewildering, beguiling, high-speed assault on the senses that unashamedly knew it’s primary purpose was to leave its paying customers baying, breathless and with neither the energy nor the inclination to hurl fruit and/or knives at the players. Its use of contemporary technology - delivering lines over radios and mobile phones - as a source of coups de theatre is something of which you felt the original author and his contemporaries would have soundly approved.
It’s also one that gives more respect and, indeed, reverence, to the sacred nature of comedy - its attempt to deal with the awkward fact of the outsider and the outside. This staging’s most confrontational scene is one usually played for laughs: Fergus O’Donnell’s gulled Malvolio, punished for his hubris, thrown by deceit beyond the bounds not just of society but seemingly of the narrative world of the play itself, claws learishly blind and helpless through a relentless sonic barrage, mocked by the God-booming words of the fool Feste (Natasha Broomfield, also doubling up as Maria) as the author of his fall. Geoffrey Lumb as Toby Belch, the play’s other great fool, is being forced into elaborate dressing-up-box Shakespearean costume while the rest of the cast remains in casual modern dress.
Certainly from a more high-minded point of view there are difficulties. Musical scenes are extended perhaps a little beyond the point of endurance. The production seems overly pleased with itself over its numerous interactions with the audience. But these are quibbles about a production that is genuinely doing something new with our country’s most familiar author.