Review: Twelfth Night (Or What You Will)
Review by Paige Meintzer
Olli Gilford’s direction of Shakespeare’s famously hilarious, Twelfth Night, was a refreshing take on the play unlike any I had previously seen or imagined. It remained faithful to Shakespeare’s original text, whilst adopting a unique, modern setting and an array of costumes.
From the moment I entered the Byre, I was pleasantly surprised, if not mildly shocked, to see the entire cast on stage, donning Venetian masks, bathed in ethereal blue light and staring straight-faced into the arriving audience.
The plot, which involves an increasingly ironic love triangle between Orsino (Sebastian Allum), Olivia (Iona Robson) and Viola, disguised as the male Cesario (Eleanor Burke), was executed perfectly by the three actors, with Allum, in particular, incorporating elements of modern comedy into his performance. His promiscuous dancing and, at points, grinding on Cesario had the audience unable to contain their laughter, knowing as they do that Viola is in love with Orsino, while he thinks himself to be merely joking around with his male servant. His subsequent dancing across the stage recalled the image of Hugh Grant swinging his hips to ‘Jump (For My Love)’ in Love Actually.
Likewise, Lydia Seed gave an especially notable performance as Olivia’s kinsman, Sir Toby, playing well the part of a drunken middle-aged man, and constantly swigging wine from the bottle while adding her own unique spin to Shakespeare’s original script.
The decision to include a live band centre stage, as well as to have the band members interact with the audience, were particularly interesting choices, and ones that I did not initially foresee being fond of. However, it worked exceptionally well with Gilford’s attempt to modernise the performance, and the band set the tone for many scenes with thematically apt musical accompaniments. An onstage microphone was also a welcome prop in much of the play’s diegesis (particularly when the fool decided to sing a love song).
The play’s final scene in which Viola and Sebastian (Grace Thorner) are reunited and come to realise that they have both survived, had them passionately embracing in identical outfits. The largely female cast, including the choice to cast both twins as females, was highly effective in emphasising Shakespeare’s themes of appearance versus internal identity, and the ways that we perceive gender.
It is always ambitious to adopt one of Shakespeare’s works. However, Gilford did it with skill, utilising Shakespeare’s original script to fit a more familiar temporal setting, and keeping his audience laughing throughout.