BWW Review: TWELFTH NIGHT, Merlin Theatre, Sheffield
Twelfth Night, running this weekend only, is the inaugural professional production from Sheffield's Merlin Theatre. The theatre is celebrating its 50th anniversary and has been a home to amateur and touring productions, so the decision to begin producing its own professional shows is an exciting development.
This version of the Shakespeare classic works hard to emphasise the comedy in the play, which is fine for the most part. The set-pieces, such as the drunken revels of Sir Toby Belch (AJ Foley), Sir Andrew (Elliot Dale-Hughes) and their associates, their spying on Malvolio (Andrew Graves), and the final scenes where the whole cast is present are a real treat.
Similarly, the various infatuations characters have with each other are also played for laughs, with Viola (Danielle Victoria), Olivia (Jordan Maycock), Orsino (Adam Farr) and Sebastian (Rurik Seven) playing characters who are oblivious to their own ridiculousness.
Whilst all the actors make their jokes land, Dale-Hughes as Sir Andrew has a real flair for physical comedy and facial expressions, and Graves' Malvolio is also a highlight - making the character a little more sympathetic than he's often played. Farr gives us a charismatic Orsino and Claire Dean a spirited Maria, in a performance that reminded me of Rose Leslie's Ygritte in Game of Thrones.
There were places that the production need clearer direction - some performers' delivery is hard to hear, and there are small inconsistencies (such as Maria's name being pronounced variously as Maree-ah and Mari-ah). The first half is a little slow (a fault of the play as much as the production - but perhaps the script could have been shortened), although the second half is paced much more effectively.
The setting is ostensibly in Sheffield, but there are no accents or local references to make this meaningful. The contemporary setting is alluded to with a couple of uses of smartphones, but then there are some anachronisms in the other props, such as using large coins for payment and relying on letters.
I would rather director Sarah Spencer had either pushed the contemporary references further (perhaps substituting mobile or social media communication for letters) or removed the use of present-day technology as props altogether.
Whilst the exuberant scenes involving several cast members make good use of the expansive stage, in some of the smaller scenes the actors look a little lost, and perhaps a more judicious use of furniture or flats might have helped the action feel more contained. However, as the show runs at just over three hours (including interval), I can understand the minimal set design.
Despite these quibbles, this is a show that has a warmth at its heart, with some very funny scenes and several strong performances. The choice of casting actors who all live in Sheffield shows that the theatre is committed to keeping its connection to the community, even in its move towards staging professional productions.