Twelfth Night

“If music be the food of love, play on.” Not Too Tame grabs this quote from Twelfth Night and runs with it. This June, the theatre company return to the Cockpit Stage at Shakespeare North Playhouse, as part of its summer season.

With direction from Jimmy Fairhurst, Twelfth Night takes quite literal inspiration from the music industry as the setting for arguably one of Shakespeare’s most famous plays. It tells the story of twins, Viola (Georgia Frost) and Sebastian (Tom Sturgess) who are torn apart after a night of narcotics, both believing the other to be dead. Along the way, themes of grief, desire, love and identity unfurl; inescapably woven within each other.

Leading the company is star of stage and screen Les Dennis, as jobsworth tour manager, Malvolio. Dennis’ comedic experience plays the audience into the palm of his hand in a role which could be hammed up to panto-esque proportions. Thankfully, here, the line into melodrama is kept at a safe distance, his comic timing and physicality both sublime. This is in stark contrast to the cruel scenes of Act 2 where a vulnerability (not often associated with Dennis’ back catalogue) pierces through darkness and into the audience’s hearts.

Frost as Viola/Cesario is captivating. It is a joy to watch them perform in a leading role and even more so to hear their gorgeous vocals, especially during a duet with Sturgess in Act 1. Played with confidence, their characters are bonded by an undeniable chemistry which weaves its way subliminally through the piece, culminating in a heartwarming final act.

Customary in the Tudor times, a song or two was often to be found within plays. This production of Twelfth Night grants itself permission to indulge itself that little bit further, as an integral and important part of the production. A combination of well-known classics are interspersed with Dean Fairhurst’s original compositions to create a somewhat anthemic feel, which, more often than not, raises the roof and moves the narrative forward.

Set and Costume Design from theatre design studio, Good Teeth utilises the wooden playground that is the Shakespeare North Playhouse. Allowing the actors to spill out into the entire auditorium, a visceral shared experience is created. Costumes are an abrupt combination of stark and detailed, period and modern. Actors as stagehands shimmy onto the stage with ‘CREW’ emblazoned across their t-shirts as they brush shoulders with more couture costume pieces, which wouldn’t have looked out of place on a runway for last year’s Autumn/Winter collection. (Yes, I am talking about Les Dennis’, frankly, fabulous yellow coat.)

True to its setting, Lighting Design by Benny Goodman effectively transports us from scene to scene, with a trip to the club and the dungeon thrown in for good measure. Kitsch but fun (and a little school disco), the design hung well against its surroundings.

The issue with this production is that it has taken a strong theme but missed an opportunity to really blend the story into it. Whilst Shakespeare’s works can vary in complexity, the plot of Twelfth Night is relatively straightforward. However, the choice of setting often makes the narrative feel somewhat convoluted, resulting in a confusion amongst the audience which could have been avoided with just a little more signposting within an already (and often hilariously) adapted script.

That being said, in a world that is so often solemn, this is the time and the place for Shakespeare for the not too tame- or serious.

This show was reviewed on the 11th June 2024 at the Shakespeare North Playhouse where it runs until the 29th June 2024.  Tickets available here: Twelfth Night | Shakespeare North Playhouse

Review written by Lee Gregory


Photo credit: Patch Dolan

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