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Twelfth Night, Hampstead Theatre

William Shakespeare, adapted by Edward Hall and Roger Warren 
Directed by Edward Hall
★★★★ 

Pros: Excellent staging, music, acting, costumes… nothing falls out of place.

Cons: Very few to be honest, but perhaps just short of the elusive fifth star! 

Our Verdict: I have no doubt Shakespeare would feel proud to see the way his play is brought to life by Edward Hall and Propeller. 

Courtesy of Hampstead Theatre

All male Shakespearean company Propeller gives new life to Twelfth Night in this production. The play is given an eerie, almost sinister twist, which fits the story and characters remarkably well. It’s a world of shadows, where ashy tones command the stage and phantom masks are everywhere.

The plot of Twelfth Night is well known, but this version focuses on the themes of death and grief. Lady Olivia and her household mourn the death of her brother. Simultaneously, Viola mourns the death of hers after a shipwreck that has left her stranded in Illyria. Disguised as a man she seeks refuge in the court of Duke Orsino, a man “grieving” for his love for Olivia, who refuses to consider any offers of marriage. Viola, pretends to be a eunuch named of Cesario, and Orsino pours his heart out to her and commands that she help him win Lady Olivia’s hand. Meanwhile Sir Toby, Olivia’s drunken uncle and her twisted lady-in-waiting toy with Malvolio – Olivia’s Stewart – duping him into thinking Olivia is in love with him.

Edward Hall and Propeller are nothing short of wondrous in their interpretation of Twelfth Night. They create an enigmatic and mystifying aura around the plot. For example, masked men in shadows look at the stage from above while events take place. Many scenes have an ethereal feel to them, and strong parallels are drawn between the various plotlines: Viola’s actions as Cesario, Malvolio’s expectations towards Olivia through the conspiracy against him, and Olivia’s misguided love for Cesario. Nothing is ever is as it seems with Shakespeare and this is especially true in this version of Twelfth Night. Edward Hall and Propeller have without a doubt captured the essence of the play and they pass it on to the audience in a powerful way.

Joseph Chance portrays Viola as an inexperienced but intrepid character, who is sweet as woman and gallant as boy. Ben Allen projects the solemnity of Olivia’s status while incorporating brilliants twists of comedy. Allen lightens the ashen mood in the plot, making you roar with laughter. Olivia can be a very stubborn character also, and so Allen changes the colors in his acting effortlessly to fit the needs of the story. Christopher Heyward plays Orsino, the character “in love with love”. This facet of Orsino’s personality comes across instantly in Heyward’s performance. Scenes between him and viola are tense and raw, depicting Orsino’s attraction towards Viola, whom he thinks is a man. Vince Leigh as drunkard Sir Toby, Chris Myles as roughed up Malvolio and the ensemble lighten up the story through twisted pranks, yellow stockings and crossed garters. Propeller deliver exceptional performances all round.

All these elements are sewn together with live music, making the sombre moments darker and the eerie ones more gothic. These musical pieces and original songs are interpreted by Feste, played by Liam O’Brien. They create a bridge that helps the play flow in a natural way.

I can only say that this is a great production of Twelfth Night. I wish I could sit through all the performances and highly encourage theatre lovers to go to Hampstead Theatre. Do not miss this remarkable experience.

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below! 

Twelfth Night runs at Hampstead Theatre from until Saturday 20th July 2013. 
Box office: 020 7722 9301 or book online at http://www.hampsteadtheatre.com/whats-on/

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