Home » Reviews » Off West End » Twelfth Night, Lion and Unicorn Theatre

Twelfth Night, Lion and Unicorn Theatre

William Shakespeare
Directed by Rae Mcken


Pros: The spoken text is crystal clear while the modern day setting, with mobile phones and such, makes the Bard’s renaissance comedy relevant and accessible to present day audiences.

Cons: The small space could barely contain the heightened action of the story and an occasionally overcrowded stage distracted from an otherwise polished production.

Our Verdict: This is an entertaining production, successfully showcasing a talented young cast and proving, once again, the relevance and accessibility of classics in contemporary culture.

Courtesy of Giant Olive

This review had a lot going against it. As the bard is my favourite playwright, I tend to go to Shakespeare productions with my most critical hat firmly attached. On top of this protection of a man more than four-hundred years deceased, I have seen this particular play performed by the likes of Mark Rylance, Stephen Fry, Derek Jacobi and William Hut. Perhaps it was the rather snobbish preconception of Shakespeare in a pub that led me to expect choppy use of the language with an automaton delivery and half-baked Elizabethan costume but this production was a wonderful reminder that Shakespeare is a master storyteller and can be performed anywhere.

I have never heard Shakespearean language spoken so naturally and coherently as the aforementioned group of English actors who are all meticulously trained in verse. I was thus very pleasantly surprised with this production that this ease with Shakespearean language has been passed down to the next generation of talent. In a play that combines two of Shakespeare’s seemingly favourite devices – disguise and mistaken identity – this might be one of the clearest productions of Twelfth Night I have ever seen. These actors knew exactly what they were saying and used the language to their best advantage to eek out the individuality of each character at their best and worst. Special mentions must go to Shanaya Rafaat as Olivia and Fred Gray as Malvolio who breathed life and colour into the two characters I often find the most tedious and ‘one–note’.

The modern costuming of the piece was a refreshing update of the text with the use of modern technology on-stage (tablets and mobiles) feeling amusing at times but somewhat needless at others. The delightful reference to Olivia finding out by text that the light of her eye is coming for a visit evoked a sympathetic chuckle from the entire audience! The setting in the ancient region of Illyria could have perhaps been better conveyed and the small space of the stage better utilized with less set and more atmospheric lighting. However, this was off-set by thoughtful sound design by Ed Lewis who took advantage of the soulful vocals of Nathanael Campbell (Feste) to highlight the musical nature of the play.

While this production was clearly directed with an expert understanding of Shakespeare’s language and how to use it, there were moments that were played for laughs and occasionally these detracted from the polish of the production.  I did find the portrayal of the final scene overly sentimental which did not sit well in the context of the rest of the production.

However, all-in-all, this is another enjoyable night out at the Lion and Unicorn Theatre and I would recommend this production, especially to Shakespeare newbies as it is sure to make you a life-long fan.

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

Twelfth Night runs at Giant Olive Theatre, Lion and Unicorn until 23 February 2013.
Box Office: 08444 999 999 or book online at http://www.giantolive.com/

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