Reviewed on Friday 5th May 2017 by Sebastian Singh
Photo Credit: Royal Exchange Theatre
Jo Davies has transformed Shakespeare’s already fun Twelfth Night into a charming, joyous production that really plays with gender and identity. It seats itself in the modern world with electric guitars, life jackets and fold up bicycles, whilst retaining the core messages inherent within Shakespeare’s writing.
Leslie Travers has done a superb job with the staging: a simple bare stage with sand piled in the centre and planks of wood lining the ceiling to represent the shipwreck. The sand is cleverly moved around the stage to create different settings but is a reminder of the Illyrian coastline, whilst the wooden structure descends from the heavens to create Malvolio’s cage. The costume was also striking from Malvolio’s garish cycling garments to Feste’s statue of liberty-inspired party dress; there was colour and detail everywhere.
The addition of music from composer Alex Baranowski added so much mood and aided many of the scene transitions. Credit must go to the actor musicians, Joe Gravil, Jill Myers and Kate Young, headed up by musical director Tarek Merchant. As Orsino first speaks, “If music be the food of love, play on” and they did, adding colour and ambiance to an already rich production.
All actors in this production were strong and spoke clearly. I was particularly impressed by Faith Omolo, who played Viola and Cesario; she was fierce and energetic throughout and really pushed the borders of masculinity, femininity and identity in this role. Kate Kennedy, who took the role of Olivia, was very strong and active within her scenes; she quickly goes from prim and proper to very provocative. Her elation upon discovering there were two men she could possibly marry was so refreshing and brought a new light to this character that I have never seen before.
The comedic trio of Maria (Mina Anwar), Sir Toby Belch (Simon Armstrong) and Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Harry Atwell) frequently had the audience in fits of laughter and really had fun with the text. A highlight of the show was the letter section with Malvolio (Anthony Calf), an actor who also fully committed to his part. This section was so well crafted, with the actors hiding in the audience, that the audience almost felt involved and responsible for the trio’s deceit and trickery.
But it was Kate O’Donnell as Feste, a trans-woman playing a part written for a man, which shows a monumental shift in our modern theatrical culture. The production is rather fluid with identity but Kate brings new meaning to this role and play by playing gender as something that is fluid and it absolutely works. She is very funny as Feste with some very dry humour but it was the ending where she sang her “wind and the rain” ditty and sang the poignant final words, “when I was a little boy” that really marked this moment in our theatre history.
The production ended with deserving rapturous applause from the audience; if you haven’t seen Twelfth Night, get yourself a ticket before it is too late.
This production runs until Saturday 20th May 2017.