An exciting seventies reimagining of one of Shakespeare’s most loved comedies, with a relevant and discerning take on his gender politics. The Royal Lyceum and Bristol Old Vic’s co-production brings a fun and fresh energy to Twelfth Night. With lavish costumes, easy comedy and even the occasional musical number, this play is really made to stand out.
The production is staged as a play within a play (a homage to one of Shakespeare’s favourite plot devices). We begin with a group of intoxicated friends in the third or fourth day of a hedonistic house party in an abandoned stately home and the costumes leave us in no doubt that we are truly in the seventies. As the group seek for new entertainment one happens upon a copy of Twelfth Night and they decide to stage the play then and there. The party atmosphere gives way with a graceful wit to the intoxicating power of Twelfth Night. As the friends scramble to their chosen roles they announce their names before their lines with set directions, comedically helping the audience ease into the new dynamic of the meta-play.
The costumes are utterly sumptuous and used intelligently to great effect. The colourful psychedelic silks and satins of the seventies together with the excited aura of the party create an exhilarating vibe which imbibes the performance with the original masques and adventure of Shakespeare’s comedies. When Orsino (Collette Dalal Tchantcho) declared ‘If music be the food of love, play on’, there was a palpable energy spread through the room. Malvolio’s custom made yellow platform heels perform a dance which Shakespeare himself could not fail to appreciate, coupled with his ‘letter song’ this would be a very hard scene indeed for the RSA to top, a testament to the impressive performance of Christopher Green.
Pacing is where this production slightly lets itself down, the addition of scenes is a bold and largely successful move, however, this is coupled with a decision to cut down almost none of the original text, and with the brash, noisy setting, the resulting three hour performance drags at times without a quiet reprieve. Furthermore, in a few of these long-winded scenes, the energy of the actors sometimes dips, making them difficult to engage with.
The ways in which the costumes cut across, blurred and redefined gender in the play is genius. Taking their lead from Shakespeare’s original plotted cross-dressing, and gender confusion. The old Vic and Lyceum take up this motif and run with it. There is scarcely a man without platform heels and glittering dresses, or a woman without a sharp suit, and the result is utterly fabulous and beautiful to watch. This blurring of traditional gender norms strikes a cord with topical discussions about gender fluidity whilst still remaining true to the Shakespearean classic they so successfully adapt to the modern stage.
14th September – 6th October
Royal Lyceum Theatre
Image: Mihaela Bodlovic