Billed as ‘Shakespeare meets Postmodern Jukebox’, OVO Theatre’s musical production of the Bard’s famous comedy of mistaken identity and love triangles comes hot on the heels of the Young Vic’s own musical production. Rather than original songs, this production combines modern hits, like Britney Spear’s Toxic, Carly Rae Jepsen’s Call Me Maybe and Radiohead’s Creep, to compliment the action. The multi-talented cast sing, dance, play and act their way through ninety-fave minutes sans interval – a good cutting of the two+ hours of the original, without losing any of the major plot points or famous moments.
The cast do their best with the small space and minimal set—although admittedly, when all the actors are onstage, it was somewhat of a squeeze. The unusual set-up of the Rose Playhouse suits the guise of a 1920s cruise liner quite well, and the sound and lighting design compliment this. The mainstay of the stage is the piano, which morphs between musical instrument, row-boat, bar and dancefloor throughout the action, solidifying music as the show’s focal point. The song choices at times feel a little random, and the transitions rushed, but they add another layer to the action and the whole premise provides a fresh take on one of Shakespeare’s most widely performed pieces.
Despite the central plot of gender-bending and misdirected love, the show is at its best away from the love triangle, when the assorted characters are on stage creating mischief—prime examples of these being Malvolia’s reading of the letter, accompanied by a lot of physical comedy and laughs, and her subsequent wooing of Olivia with Beautiful by Christina Aguilera. The ensemble of colourful characters were all strong comedic performers, but some stood out: Hannah Francis-Baker gives a great performance as Feste, with an admirable singing voice and multiple musical talents, James Douglas was a hilariously dimwitted Sir Andrew Aguecheek and Anna Franklin commanded the stage as Lady Toby Belch, overseer of mischief and drunken debauchery. Faith Turner deserves a special mention for her performance as the gender-swapped, lovelorn steward Malvolia. She slipped with ease between comedy and earnestness, and her love for Olivia makes her a much more sympathetic character than Shakespeare’s Malvolio. This makes the trick played on her and her subsequent spell locked up more cruelty than comedy, as her self-arrogance never reaches such a peak that it feels like this is deserved. But perhaps this is what OVO wanted to draw our attention to, as the production ends with the emphasis on her, abandoned and lamenting her status as outsider. This is a little bleak after the comedy and music that precedes it but leaves the audience with some fresh thoughts about the supposed ‘happy ending’.
An interesting take on a well-known Shakespeare play, and worth catching while it is on. Twelfth Night is playing at the Rose Playhouse until the 5th of May. Tickets can be purchased here.
Edited by Evangeline Stanford, Digital Editor