The audience for OUDS production of Twelfth Night take their seats to the sound of the shipping forecast (very appropriate given the louring skies) then, as the lights go down, two beautiful, ethereal voices can be heard. The singing throughout the play by Leonor Jennings and Catriona Graffius (and, at one time, by Peter Huhne) is stunning. The music is deliberately anachronistic, ranging from Mozart to rock and roll – all good fun. The singers are accompanied by two musicians, one on keyboard and Simone Salmon on harp.
However, this is not a bright and cheerful Twelfth Night – the front cover of the programme is already an indication of that. The play starts with Feste (Joseph Allan) finding Viola (Rebecca Banatvala) on the beach and fear is already in the air. When Duke Orsino (a striking Frederick Bowerman) starts to speak you realise that this is an edgy, uneasy Twelfth Night full of sinister undertones. The fool Feste is often in chains and seems fearful for his life. At the end the faithful Antonio is left kneeling while everyone else dances. Even the costumes, mostly torn and, in the case of Olivia, highly unusual, add a slightly surreal note to the play. In contrast, though, the trio of the lively Maria (Georgina Heller), a very funny Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Peter Huhne) and Sir Toby Belch (Andrew Laithwaite) add exuberance and humour to the play. The acting is of a very high standard; particular mention should go to one of the funniest Malvolios I have ever seen, Jordan Waller, who knows how to play the audience. An outstanding performance.
All the sadder then, that the drawback of this production is the fact that it was often hard, sometimes nigh on impossible, to hear what the actors were saying. The Bodleian Quad is a large, draughty space and the seating is arranged in a very wide semi-circle. Voices often simply got lost. Some of the performers would indeed do well to slow down so that they could be better heard (particularly the higher-voiced women) but, without microphones, it is difficult to know how to improve the situation. These actors are so talented that I would still recommend going, but get there early and make sure you sit in the centre at the front. And, by the way, dress warmly – it’s cold out there!