BWW Review: TWELFTH NIGHT, Southwark Playhouse
Following Macbeth in 2016 and The Tempest in 2017, Southwark Playhouse are presenting Twelfth Night as the new instalment of their Shakespeare For Schools programme. The aim of their annual project is to bring to the stage top-notch professionally produced Shakespeare plays targeted to younger audiences, some of whom might be experiencing theatre for the first time in their lives.
Directed by RSC Creative Fellow Anna Girvan and designed by the superlative Anna Reid, this production of Twelfth Night not only delivers the Bard's intricate story-lines clearly, but engages with the audience exquisitely. Running at just over 90 minutes straight through, its asides and nudges to the public are delicately employed to breach the divide with the potential youngsters, its original language kept alive cunningly with the insertion of a few sung modern interludes.
Illyria becomes a music festival, everyone wears wristbands and sports dedicated t-shirts while they paddle through the tangled love stories. Such a setting might seem outlandish on paper - and those who beat for Team Period Shakespeare will certainly snicker at the thought - but it successfully moves the beloved playwright into the lives of a younger audience and makes it relatable and immediate, playing onto the musical vein already present in the text.
Double casting has a significant role here, underlining the similarities and connections between characters and essentially providing key visual cues (and the chance for many a gag). It's a significantly inclusive piece too: Antonia communicates with British Sign Language, which is also used by Sebastian and whose adoption was a delightful surprise.
The company is brilliant. Girvan engages her actors and builds a dynamic and bubbly show. Nearly all multi-instrumentalists, they swap between verse and song while accompanying each other on various occasions. Aruhan Galieva is especially flexible on this side, as Feste she is funny but never cheap, brining a delectable level of hippiness.
Becky Barry handles Viola and Sebastian with ease, she is energetic and spirited even though can slightly tip into overacting at times. Luke Wilson and Liv Spencer are joyous and hilarious as Aguecheek/Malvolio and Maria/Valentina. The latter becomes Olivia's hair and makeup lady and part of Orsinia's security respectively, which is a curious choice which clicks marvelously within this well-established world.
Veteran actress Caroline Parker brings a new dimension as Sir Toby Belch and Antonia. Purple hair and a notable body language, she steals the show at any given opportunity. Last but not least, Sapphire Joy's delicate control over Olivia and Orsinia is artful and well-crafted, she grounds two characters who might appear too distant from her public's scope and moulds them into identifiable public figures of the modern world.
Reid's design is once again a winner. Colourful pieces of cloth hang from the ceiling as well as fairylights; astro turf (which she seems to enjoy a lot at the minute between this and Paradise at Hampstead Theatre) covers the floor and contributes to the warm and earthy vibe of the rest of the set.
An exciting and appealing production, it's safe to say that this Twelfth Night is certainly bound to bewitch audiences that span all ages.