OVO Theatre’s Twelfth Night opens with Viola and Sebastian performing their dance double-act on a cruise ship. This scene sets up many of the themes and problems that continue throughout the show. These include raucous humour that’s like jazz hands tirelessly shaking for 95 minutes, with the plot being used as a means of taking a step towards the next laugh, the next spectacular event of debauchery. Also a lack of consistent focus; seemingly clever suggestions that subtly reveal some underlying narrative turn out to be random, are quickly forgotten or, again, are intended only for a quick laugh. The fish that jump out at Viola in the first scene are the perfect example of this; a quick slapstick gag that squeezes laughter out of half the audience, then runs out of steam.
Maybe that is what Twelfth Night is about. Just a celebration of silliness. But the sad idiocy of Andrew Aguecheek could be pulled out in the performance, as could the suffering of all the thwarted lovers, who spend most of the play dissatisfied in their love interests. Indeed, a lot more could be done throughout, to give depth to the characters. In the vivid performance given by Anna Franklin as Lady Toby Belch, glimpses of the misery underlying her exuberant playfulness hint at the Jazz Age melancholy that ruptures every Zelda and F. Scott party. But then that’s drowned out with more laughter. Laughter that comes much less from true belief in the characters, than from an endless parade of gaffes and winks.
To some extent the music provides the show’s depth. The musicians are incredible, able to shift repeatedly between acting, playing and supporting.
The piano is at the heart of the show and is used cleverly, swinging across the stage to serve multiple purposes. It is played interchangeably by the pianist and barman (Tom Cagnoni) but also Captain Orsino (Will Forester), Malvolia (Faith Turner) and Viola (Lucy Crick), which heightens the capricious adriftness of their state. They are not only physically on a cruise liner, after the SS Elysium’s sinking, but they are also in undying pursuit of perfect love and heteronormative relationships that are impossible, even if desirable. Similarly, the drop-down netted microphone offers an uncertain platform of performance to the love-sufferer of every scene.
This complex undermining of each lover’s desire is presented again in each performer’s reliance on the other musicians. It is not just a band playing while an actor sings – the actor beckons the musicians into song, and they become tainted by the emotion of the singer. However, the lighting somewhat simplifies this interaction. It is too obvious, cutting to a deep pink in the love scenes, while remaining too cool and disconnected when the revellers are drinking hard in a cruise ship bar.
The characters express themselves most authentically through reimagined, rearranged contemporary pop songs. Britney Spears’ ‘Oops! I Did It Again’ explains Viola/Cesario’s unstoppable ability to make people fall in love with her/him. Radiohead’s ‘Creep’ gives a brilliantly reimagined perspective on Malvolia, who achieves real depth in the final scene, with a very convincingly directed and performed piece of theatre to end a fun but slightly weightless show.
Author: William Shakespeare
Director: Adam Nichols
Composer: Jill Priest
Producer: OVO Theatre
Box office: 020 7261 9565 // firstname.lastname@example.org
Booking link: http://www.roseplayhouse.org.uk/events/event/twelfth-night/
Booking until: 5 May 2019