BWW Review: TWELFTH NIGHT at Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria
The Australian Shakespeare Company's production of Twelfth Night is a fun night out for the whole family at the Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria. Best described as "picnic theatre", make sure to bring some indulgent nibbles and bubbles to enjoy in this enchanting garden setting.
Twelfth Night, or What You Will, is one of Shakespeare's most musical romantic comedies and was first staged in 1602. It centres around twins Viola and Sebastian who at the beginning of the play become separated after a shipwreck. Viola disguises her female gender by taking on a male persona, Cesario, to enter the employment of Duke Orsino, who is in love with Countess Olivia. The twist, in typical Shakespearen fashion, is that Olivia falls desperately in love with Cesario / Viola , who in turn falls in love with Orsino.
Strong influences from Commedia Dell'arte are obvious in Twelfth Night's character antics. The play's story is based on Apollonius and Silla by Barnabe Rich, as well as Gl'Ingannati, an Italian play about twins and mistaken identity, collectively written by the Accademia degli Intronati in 1531.
Twelfth Night is believed to have been written with the intention of providing entertainment for the last night of The Twelve Days of Christmas, a celebration referred to as the Eve of the Feast of Epiphany. The energetic festivities and boisterous nature of this religious event are definitely present in Shakespeare's play.
Due to the play's historical origins and the use of music for embellishment, instead of story advancement, Twelfth Night does feel contextually dated and not relevant for a 21st-Century audience compared to some of Shakespeare's other plays.
Perhaps a way to make this production more relevant for current society would have been to place a heavier focus on using this classic text to highlight the impact gender plays in the labyrinth of modern love. Shakespeare's timeless fable on the unpredictability of love's web provides an excellent opportunity for this.
Despite this The Australian Shakespeare Company do still succeed in their mission statement of providing an "exciting, accessible, contemporary production of Shakespeare in an innovative and unique theatre performance form."
This was achieved through an excellent set design and slick comic direction by Glenn Elston OAM, both of which helped to heighten the plays Commedia Dell'arte origins. Music by Paul Norton, while not advancing the storyline, did still help to create a festive mood appropriate for The Twelve Days of Christmas. He also provides a beautiful rendition of Come Away, Death.
Elizabeth Brennan is clear and articulate as Viola/Cesari, Anna Burgess shines as a stunning Olivia and Hugh Sexton provides an excellent portrayal of Duke Orsino.
The Australian Shakespeare Company's production of Twelfth Night provides a light hearted introduction to Shakespeare's plays for the novice audience member.
More information about The Australian Shakespeare Company can be found on https://shakespeareaustralia.com.au/