Saturday 3 March 2018

Twelfthnight - Theatre Review

What: Twelfthnight
When 2 - 4 March 2018
Where: Victoria Gardens
Written by: William Shakespeare
Directed by: Jennifer Sarah Dean
Musical Direction by: Ben Adams
Performed by: Iopu Auva'a, Nicola Bowman, Saxon Gray, Lelda Kapsis, Johnathan Peck, Mitch Ralston, John Reed, Paul Robertson, Alec Steedman, Bridget Sweeney, Peter Tedford, Chloe Towan, Annabelle Tudor, and Jacqueline Whiting.
Set by: Karli Laredo
Costumes by: Rhiannon Irving
Stage Management by: Natasha Brown

Annabelle Tudor, Nicola Bowman and Peter Tedford - photo by Burke Photography
 For those of you who are feeling a sense of deja vu fear not, this really is the second Twelfthnight production this year and 2018 is a much better year because of it. As I said in my GJ Productions review, Twelfthnight is one of my favourite Shakespeare plays so I was beyond delirious when I found out Melbourne Shakespeare Company were bringing it to us again - in a park! - before the Summer leaves us and Winter drives us all indoors again. (Yes, I do know it isn't his greatest play but it is still one of the funniest romps he wrote).

Melbourne Shakespeare Company have chosen to present Twelfthnight as a full scale pantomime and their clowning skills are more than up to the task. One of the amazing things about this ensemble is everyone in the team is always working to the same standards which means - in a play like this - you get to fully experience all of the texture, wit, and intricacies Shakespeare has built into the characters and the world they inhabit.

The other guarantee you always get with Melbourne Shakespeare Company is they select locations which are gloriously beautiful in their own right and Victoria Gardens in Prahran does not let us down. Lush glass strewn with the first leaves of Autumn provide an amazing atmosphere. The Victoria Gardens has lovely little clearings which allow for a controlled space to work in, and Melbourne Shakespeare Company chose to work with a stone and wood beamed pagoda as a backdrop to create an almost Greek stage set up. It meant the simple act of coloured drapes was all that was needed to set a scene of luxury with an antiquitous feel just right for this gender bending romp.

As you can see in the photo, Irving has gone all out with the costumes. Again, one of the guarantees with this company is you will always delight in the colour and movement of the characters and you will always know which character you are watching. Great for kids but also great for adults such as me who are losing their ability to keep track of all the characters Shakespeare brings us. Perhap,s for me, these costumes lacked the unity of concept usually so strong in Irving's work. Having said that, this production is pantomime so colour and movement are the order of the day and we certainly got a lot of that!

When you see two of the same productions you can't help compare regardless of the time between. There is so much I loved about the Commedia approach of the one in January, but the clowning skills and direction (Dean) of this show stopped just short of acrobatics so the energy was immense.

Viola (Kapsis) and Orsino (Auva'a) totally stole the show - which was hard to do - as they inadvertantly fall in love. What I really adored was Dean allowed us to see the attraction right from the very start. This play does not work with subtly and Dean never made us try and read obscure signals at any time and I can't praise her highly enough for the boldness with which she works. It also gave Viola the space to react with real intention against Whiting's Olivia which made all of the scenes electric and unexpected.

The comedy trio of Maria (Tudor), Sir Toby (Tedford), and Sir Andrew (Ralston) were perhaps not as syncopated as I was expecting and Bowman did not have the vocal strength for Festes. Just as I was about to feel a little disappointed though, up comes another superb comedy trio in the form of Maria (Tudor), Priest (Towan), and Fabian (Sweeney)! A unique grouping but it worked magnificently.

Peck's Malvolio is a clowning masterclass. His physical humour is superb and his attempt to capture a wayward letter brought the house (park) down with laughter as he mounts the pagoda and chases down this will'o'wisp paper with a range of platforms drawing ouches and guffaws from the crowd similtaniously.

My one real complaint is the play seemed to drag out a bit which, for a high energy clowning pantomime, is problematic. The wide playing area meant a lot of time was spent running on and off before the scenes started and, as much as I loved Peck's clowning, the amount of time he spent reading and interpreting the letter after it was caught caused me to lose track of what it actually said. In the end I had to rely on my memory of the play to know there was more than just cross-gartered yellow stockings involved.

This production of Twelfthnight is so much fun and superbly produced. Unfortunately their three week season has been cut short, so you only have this weekend to see it. Take your family - it starts at 7pm and is only an hour and a half long - and have a picnic or pizza and laugh one last time before the seasons change.

3.5 Stars

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