Twelfth Night @ The Dukes Theatre

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We arrived for Filter Theatre’s performance of Twelfth Night at The Dukes to find the stage in a state of disarray and filled with the actors milling about chatting to each other. The play was billed as being in association with the Royal Shakespeare Company and had received many positive reviews, so I was expecting good things. Although it was probably one of the most bizarre Shakespeare adaptations I’ve seen, I was not disappointed.

The stage was set to look like a music-studio/rehearsal room, with musical instruments and bric-a-brac surrounded by wires and amps and microphones. This will give you a taste of the musical side of the performance, which the cast presented with talent and a riotous energy that was strangely infectious. The technical side of the show was impressive, using a variety of music and sound effects, and a ‘drunk’ Toby playing with the microphone-amp set. Although at times it was hard to understand the words when they were obscured by sounds, the idea of using technology worked well overall. I particularly enjoyed the shipping-forecast style radio announcement that Viola interacted with, answering her questions while continuing to inform of the storm and state of affairs.

The play was condensed to 90 minutes, and much of this was taken up with music and shenanigans, however, the storyline was still conveyed and it was easy to tell what was going on. For the most part the lines were from the original text, which added to the comedy of it all as this was held in tension with the modern twist. I thought the doubling up of Viola and her twin brother Sebastian (played by the same actress) was a little bit confusing because there was no real mark of differentiation between them. I think without prior knowledge of the play, this would have been confusing.

The actors were all very engaging, particularly Jonathan Broadbent, as Duke of Orsino, and Fergus O’Donnell as the hilarious but slightly creepy Malvolio who pranced around the stage for the second half of the show in nothing but a pair of very tight gold boxers and yellow socks. Geoffrey Lumb showed off his impeccable comic timing as the constantly drunk Toby Belch.

I think it was the audience participation that really caught us off-guard. It began on a small scale, with Viola requesting a man’s jacket and hat from the audience for her cunning disguise as Cesario, and built up to us throwing balls onto the main actor’s Velcro hat to make them stick, and one man even did a Tequila shot on stage with one of the actors. My friend and I found ourselves urged up on stage and were led on a conga line weaving around the instruments, only to find that there was pizza being passed around the rest of the audience. Although we wondered where Shakespeare had written a stage direction ‘Now Feste passeth Dominoes around the audience’, Twelfth Night is a comedy and the performance delivered laugh after laugh, particularly when Malvolio pointed into the audience and exclaimed ‘Pizza! Is there no respect…?’

Although Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night has been thoroughly whittled down to the bare bones, we couldn’t help but come out of the theatre with a grin on our faces, and felt that the performance had given us a satisfactory storyline and an hour and a half of pure entertainment.

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