BWW Review: Filter Theatre's Outrageously Musical TWELFTH NIGHT Sparks Roars of Laughter
The West Coast Debut of Filter Theatre in Association with the Royal Shakespeare Company's Rock 'n' Roll take on Shakespeare's TWELFTH NIGHT, the classic tale of romance, seduction and deception, gets an innovative new staging for a one-week run Tuesday, March 14 through Sunday, March 19 at the Wallis Annenberg Center in Beverly Hills. Filter Theatre approaches this show with its trademark fusion of sound, music and narrative drive, creating live chemistry between actors, audience, text and sound that explodes into a vital and exhilarating theatrical experience.
Directed by Filter Theatre's Sean Holmes, with music and sound by Tom Haines and Ross Hughes, TWELFTH NIGHT is a ferocious reimaging of Shakespeare's classic comedy where nothing onstage is hidden and everything is revealed, from cables, costumes, props and more. Six actors, together with two musicians (Alan Pagan & Ross Hughes), perform all the various roles, often interacting directly with the audience as they run up the aisles or take seats next to surprised audience members, several of whom are called up onstage to participate in the show's outrageous antics. And be prepared to enjoy and pass along large boxes of delivery pizza when prompted to do so by the cast.
Music is such a large part of this 90-minute show, it starts at the very beginning with Orsino (Jonathan Broadbent), the Count who is as much in love with love as he is with the rich and incredibly free-spirited and sexy Olivia (Francesca Zoutewelle), eggs on the audience to finish the comedy's famous opening speech: "If music be the food of love, play on! Give me excess of it." And with a wink and a nod, we know this is not going to be a traditional Shakespearean presentation in any manner or form!In fact, the staging is more reminiscent of a rock gig than a straight play, strewn as it is with sound equipment and musical instruments rather than scenery. This modern take has Viola (Amy Marchant) being briefed about her new surroundings by the level, impersonal tones of a BBC shipping forecast seeping through a transistor radio. Characters press microphones to their foreheads, with the devices picking up the music in their minds. It's a great joke when Sir Toby Belch (Oliver Dimsdale) first does this and nothing whatsoever is heard other than static, letting us know not to expect too much in the way of intelligent thought from this constantly drunken sponger who first enters reciting "To be or not to be" decked out in traditional Shakespearean garb while the rest of the cast appears in casual contemporary wear such as jeans, sweatshirts and sneakers. Captivating gamin Gemma Saunders dances about the stage, often with a clown's red nose attached to her face, as she prances about as Olivia's handmaiden Maria (Ma-riah). At one point, she joins in with Dimsdale and Broadbent as they create a game wherein Orsino dons a hat on which foam balls are thrown and stick in some really creative arrangements thanks to the diverse throwing abilities of the audience.
And I guarantee when the lovesick Malvolio (Ferdy Roberts) believes he has received a note from Olivia asking him to strip down and smile at her when she enters the room, you may fall out of your seat with laughter as he disrobes, revealing his outlandish yellow unmentionables! Roberts is to be commended for his ability to romp about in total abandon dressed in such scant attire. The entire cast is a marvel of energy, especially when speaking their lines while running up and down the steep stairs in the aisles on their way to and from the stage.When Filter premiered this version of TWELFTH NIGHT at Stratford-upon-Avon for the Royal Shakespeare Company, London's The Sunday Times raved, "The most hard-hearted purists would melt at Filter's 90-minute reworking of this play, directed with passion, panache and precision. For newcomers to Shakespeare I can't think of a better introduction. The music is ferocious, fiery and funny: at times, it makes the Stones look like a group of genteel clergymen. This is not a send-up: it's a celebration - mad, wild, loving and hilarious." And you can join in the fun through Sunday, March 19, 2017 at the Wallis Annenberg Center in the Bram Goldsmith Theater. Single tickets are available for $35-$85. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit TheWallis.org, call 310.746.4000, or stop by in person at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts Ticket Services located at 9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90210.
Photo credit: Kevin Parry