Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Twelfth Night **

Twelfth Night 
By William Shakespeare, Bell Shakespeare Company
 Regional Arts Centres, then Playhouse from Sept 1 to 1, 2010
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night is a dark romantic-comedy. A subtle balance of darkness and comedy is essential to its success. Director, Lee Lewis, counterpoints tragedy with broad farce and makes several crucial errors in this production that throw out the balance.

Lewis starts the play in a non-theatrical way. Seven actors enter in silence and darkness, their torches adding eerie light to the huge, central mound of abandoned clothing and surrounding packing boxes.  They wander aimlessly, grubby and dejected, watching bushfires news footage. The only woman (Andrea Demetriades OK) weeps suddenly while the men look on helplessly. They are displaced fire victims arriving in a safe location.

An old man (Max Cullen) finds a book –Twelfth Night. They take turns reading snippets without inflection or characterisation. Suddenly, each begins “acting” as characters. The play begins and the bushfire theme is lost, apart from their costumes and piles of detritus.

Twelfth Night begins with Viola shipwrecked and rescued on the shore of Illyria, believing her twin brother, Sebastian (Adam Booth), drowned and mourning his loss. Disguising herself as a boy, Cesario, she becomes servant to suave Count Orsino (Elan Zavelsky (OK)) and falls in love with him. But must carry his love missives to Olivia (Kit Brookman) who falls in love with Cesario/Viola.

It is a play about mistaken identity, love, grief and redemption.  Lewis’ vision of fire victims performing the play works in theory, but the fire context is lost after 15 minutes. Despite one oblique reference, the notion of fire victims diverting themselves from their predicament is not reincorporated. Would it have made more sense to use a boat disaster or flood if altering the context of the play?

The show took off when Cullen, as Feste, Olivia’s Fool, sang St. James’ Infirmary and the audience applauded. There are some funny slapstick routines, especially when the naughty servants are hiding in the tree to trick puritanical Malvolio (Ben Wood) and Brent Hill is particularly entertaining as Maria.  

However, cross-gender casting muddies the characters; the dialogue lack clarity, being often shouted or too fast; the obtrusive pile of clothing pushes action away from the strongest, central stage position; and actors disappear when in front of its motley colours. It works best when they perform on it during the clown scenes.
This production has positive intentions but it ends up disrespecting fire victims, the play, the writer and the audience.

By Kate Herbert

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