Saturday 20 January 2018

Twelfth Night - Theatre Review

What: Twelfth Night
When 18 - 28 January 2018
Where: Fairfield Amphitheatre
Written by: William Shakespeare
Directed by: Jack Wilkinson
Performed by: Jack Hawkins, Vincent Kos, Grace Maddern, Laura Majzoub, Jake Matricardi, Jacob Mills, Tim Ian McMullin, Joel Norman-Hade, Madeline Pratt, Sean Sully, and Chloe Towan.
Masks by: Tessa Wallis

Madeline Pratt, Laura Majzoub, and Joel Norman-Hade - photo by Matthew Howat
The first time I ever saw Twelfth Night it was in an amphitheatre in Perth on a glorious summer evening. To this day I still remember it as one of the best shows I have ever seen. You can imagine how delighted and excited I was to be invited to the same show in another amphitheatre on a rare hot and glorious evening in Melbourne.

I wasn't disappointed. I love Twelfth Night. It is my favourite Shakespeare comedy and people don't perform it nearly often enough. Add to this, Commedia dell'Arte and I was in an ecstasy of theatre perfection. Finally, in GJ Productions we find a theatre troupe willing to explore the history of theatre making and bring it into the 21st century, overcoming the tedium of realism and breathing life back onto the stage.

Whilst it is true the ensemble need some training in mask work, the thing most of them understood was the need for zalli or gestus - the overacting of the body to portray the expression lost behind the mask. On that score there were some hilarious and unexpected character interpretations.

Pratt's Maria was pure Commedia from head to toe, and Mills' Aguecheek took me completely by surprise and the ponsy, ocker, nebbish. His sword fight with Cesario (Towan) is one of the gales of laughter highlights of the night. McMullin's Malvolio is also uproariously gross and sleazy and almost steals the show at some points.

Whilst perhaps not having the physicality down as pat, Sully's (Clown) delivery of some of the sharpest Shakespearean puns is beyond compare. Add to that his skills with music and a guitar and he brings this whole crazy world into focus. Norman-Hade's (Belch) lush is also as lovable as he is funny and Matricardi (Antonio) is as adorable as he is doleful.

Wallis' masks are quite astounding in their detailed design and nuanced interpretation within the characters of both the Shakespearean and the Commedia realms. It is quite astounding how well the Illyrians fit the societal structure of Commedia - or maybe it is the true universality of Commedia which has been allowed to shine through in this production.

It is clear Wilkinson is still quite inexperienced as a director but he does keep the staging clean. He needs to develop understanding and skill in the development of pace and intensity across the narrative arc. All of the fantastic work done throughout the evening was almost destroyed as the play's climax fell into a stuttering abyss. Luckily the show ends in a song and Sully drags the show back up on it's haunches with a rousing finale.

I am not saying this production is perfect and the direction becomes quite predictable, but there is something about the energy and enjoyment this cast bring to their shenanigans which makes an evening by the river, swatting insects and sitting on a blue stone seating bank really enjoyable. You can't get this experience in a stuffy, black, prison theatre such as those where the bulk of our arts funding seems to be invested.

Take someone you like, a picnic basket, some cushions, and lots of bug spray and settle in for a night of fun for everyone. Yes, this is kid friendly. If you can't get them to sleep because of the heat let them relax and cool down by the river. The only disappointment is the Fairfield Amphitheatre is not an accessible venue because everyone should be able to enjoy this experience.

3.5 Stars

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