Twelfth Night – Thick as Thieves
Review by Sarah Tinsley
In the intimate setting of The Hope Theatre, I feel this is a staging of a classic Shakespeare play that the bard would thoroughly have approved of. From interweaving through the audience, deftly creating a wealth of characters and dropping out of character to comic effect, this was an impressive and incredibly entertaining show.
Twelfth Night is possibly one of the most-used of Shakespeare’s plays. Perhaps because of its light-hearted content, its amusing characters, its themes of love and identity, as well as a couple of drunkards (still funny 400 years on). Either way, this staging has a fresh injection of energy and, more importantly, is incredibly funny. It’s great to see a performance that doesn’t over-hype Shakespeare and reminds us just how amusing his scripts can be.
We follow Viola from shipwreck to true love, although the journey is not an easy one. It’s difficult to cope with the problem of being in love with your boss when you’re pretending to be a man, especially when your main employment is to go and chat up someone else on his behalf. Even worse, when this woman finds herself in love with you. Awkward, to say the least. Add into the mix your identical twin brother who you thought was dead, and things get a little complicated. Of course, things end well for the separated twins (Viola and Sebastian) and their respective beaus (Orsino and Olivia). On the way, Sir Andrew and Sir Toby Belch provide the comic side story, helped by the wily maid Maria, who torture the uppity Malvolio until we almost feel sorry for him. Meandering through the story is Feste, the jester who sees all that goes on between the two sets of characters but is clearly enjoying the show far too much to intervene.
The entire cast is made up of four people. They swap vests, hats and jackets, often beginning their dialogue before they are fully changed, yet always the characters are impressively managed. Nicky Diss (also the director) veers from impassioned speeches as Cesario (Viola’s false name ) to guffawing as Sir Toby Belch. Thomas Judd is delightfully camp and useless as Sir Andrew Aguecheek, then ardently in love as Duke Orsino. Perhaps the best performances came from Oliver Lavery and Madelaine Macmahon. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a Malvolio quite so creepy and insidious, while the usually witty Feste comes across as a useless drunk who manages to fool the upper classes out of some spare change, which I loved. Olivia is brilliant; acerbic and borderline psychotic, while the smaller characters of Antonio and Valentine are beautifully caricatured.
Another reason why this is such an enjoyable performance is the interplay with the audience. We are addressed, ridiculed, tapped on the shoulder, shuffled out of the way, used as props, or even characters. All of these things thoroughly immerses the spectators in the play, drawing them into the action and fully involving them in each hilarious twist and turn.
If you think a night of Shakespeare has to be a serious one, think again. An exquisitely handled performance that will leave you with aching cheeks and a belly full of satisfaction.