Pros: An unusual setting and superb performances that made great use of the venue’s features.
Cons: Scena Mundi’s production took a while to hit its stride and was possibly twenty minutes too long. Plus the pew seating really needed cushions.
Is there such a phrase as ‘modern traditional’? If not, maybe this production from Scena Mundi Theatre Company should be the starting point for that genre. This was Shakespeare that paid homage to tradition, yet at the same time felt modern in its own unique way. The words followed the original text and the dress seemed traditional, but at the same time subtle modern touches were present. Actors slipped on sunglasses that belonged on some reality TV star, the traditional music morphed into electronica, and the clothing that seemed traditional was embellished with hints of glamour.
The venue itself, the French Protestant Church in Soho Square, added to the traditional feel. As the audience entered through the front doors of this amazing building, it was impossible not to stop and look around. It seemed to have built built to perform Shakespeare in.
Whilst the production did make great use of the venue, however, more could certainly have been done. At times, the actors just lined up in front of the pews when such beautiful, eye-catching features were waiting just a few steps behind. When they did make use of the pulpit, or the centre aisle, or the cubby hole hidden deep in the rear, the play burst into life.
I confess that apart from a brief piece of research the evening before, I was not at all familiar with Twelfth Night, and for the first ten minutes I wondered if this was going to be a long evening. The opening scenes sped past and it did feel as though one was expected to know the story already. After managing to get a grip on who was who though, all my worries vanished.
Twelfth Night is one of Shakespeare’s most-loved comedies. It is very much a typical farce, with misunderstandings everywhere. For those that don’t know the story, it revolves around a pair of twins, Viola and Sebastian, who are separated in a shipwreck and who both believe the other dead. Viola, washed up on the shores of Illyria, takes on the disguise of a boy in order to work passing messages to the Countess Olivia, who falls in love with her, mistakenly believing her she is a boy. This leads to jealousy amongst others in love with Olivia, particularly the Duke Orsino, with whom the disguised Viola falls in love. In short, confusion reigns supreme.
The cast sparkled. Special mention must go to Thomas Winsor and Martin Prest. Winsor, as the stupid and naive Sir Andrew Aguecheek, strongly reminded me of Lord Percy from Blackadder. Prest was excellent as Malvolio, Olivia’s lovelorn, irritable servant. Seeing him display his yellow stockings with such pride as he walked down the aisle was possibly the highlight of the play.
Twelfth Night is a fun play and Scena Mundi manage to treat Shakespeare’s text with total respect, even as they make their own unique additions. Staged in such an atmospheric venue, this is a production that should please the traditionalists, while at the same time appealing to a younger audience as well.
Author: William Shakespeare
Director: Cecilia Dorland
Producer: Scena Mundi Theatre C0mpany
Booking Until: 9th April 2016
Box Office: 0333 666 3366
Booking Link: www.scenamundi.co.uk