November 03, 2006

Twelfth Night @ The Cube

While there have been a couple of work-in-progress events by the RSC so far (‘The Rape Of Lucrece’ and ‘The Two Noble Kinsmen’), tonight’s performance of ‘Twelfth Night’ was the first visiting company to be presenting their work in an unfinished format.

This was directed by Sean Holmes, but as far from his flat ‘Julius Caesar’ as possible. Six actors and two musicians took to the stage in their own clothes among an enormous mess of musical instruments, microphones, sound equipment and other noise-making paraphenalia. Filter’s manifesto is one of interdisciplinary performance, and music was a major part of this production.

Running to an hour long, and heavily cut (Fabian and Antonio, despite a credit to an actor in the programme, were completely gone, the comedians’ scenes were heavily cut and all the duelling at the end had disappeared), this was a fast and very innovative version of the play. Actors not directly involved in the action contributed to music and sound effects, and much of the action was underscored- the opening scenes showing Orsino conducting a free jazz tune, while the entire of Malvolio’s letter-reading was set to a grungy rock number.


Doubling proved very interesting in the play’s final moments- Viola and Sebastian were played by the same actress, who performed the final revelations speaking to herself, and then addressed herself to Olivia as both brother and sister- resulting in a fascinating split-gender/personality effect. As she kissed Olivia, Orsino stepped forward and claimed Viola- at which Viola turned to face him and conducted the scene while still holding one arm around Olivia, playing both at once in a bizarre but visually powerful love triangle.

Some bits didn’t work so well. The final song was grossly misjudged: trying to get an audience involved in an Ian Dury-esque reading of ‘The Rain It Raineth Every Day’ was never going to work in the Cube. The cutting made it hard to engage with some characters, Sir Andrew in particular only really remaining funny because of the audience’s familiarity with the text, filling in the missing bits. Sometimes the cutting worked in the play’s favour though- Sebastian was only introduced at his first meeting with Olivia, giving us a very effective impression of what it must be like for him to walk into this bizarre situation not knowing what’s going on.

While not to everyone’s taste, being loud and quite full-on, I found this an interesting, lively and funny production of ‘Twelfth Night’. This and the Ninja ‘Hamlet’ have both effectively showed how Shakespeare can be performed in an hour flat yet still be powerful, clear and entertaining without having to sacrifice sense or textual validity.

I have no idea if this production of ‘Twelfth Night’ is going to be developed further, but I had the impression it won’t be. This would be a real disappointment, as a fully-realised production could be absolutely wonderful, and I hope at some point they consider reviving it.

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Peter Kirwan is Teaching Associate in Shakespeare and Early Modern Drama at the University of Nottingham and a reviewer of Shakespearean theatre for several academic journals.

The Bardathon is his experimental review blog, covering productions of (or based on) all early modern plays. The aim is to combine immediate reactions with the detail and analysis of the academic review.

Theatre criticism always needs more voices. Please comment with your own views and contributions!

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