BWW Review: TWELFTH NIGHT, Wilton's Music Hall
If times is harsh now, they were harsher still 400 years ago, so maybe we have to cut Twelfth Night some slack, accept that our modern sensibilities need to (wo)man up and that the Londons of the two Elizabeths are very different and that's okay, even if Shakespeare's words are universal. But there's no getting away from it - Twelfth Night is a play that celebrates cruelty rather too unapologetically.
That said, this production brims with bumptious bonhomie catapulting the action into a 1920s speakeasy in which music is not merely the food of love, but the soundtrack of these confused, confusing lives - the fact that every actor is a musician too, underlines the centrality of music to director, Paul Hart's, re-imagining of the play.
We get all the main characters of course. There's Viola (taking on the identity of a man, Cesario) who is in love with the Duke Orsini, but he's in love with the reclusive Olivia.... who has fallen in love with his messenger - yep, Cersario (Viola). Meanwhile, boozy Sir Toby Belch and his sidekick, the Woosterish Sir Andrew Aguecheek (who has an eye for Olivia) conspire with Maria, Olivia's maid, to revenge themselves on the pompous martinet, Malvolio. Oh yes, not forgetting Viola's twin, Sebastian, thought dead in the storm that brought him and his sister to Illyria, but handily turning up at the end to square the circles in all those love triangles.
If, like me, you're awed by anyone who can just pick up any instrument and knock out a tune, this is the show for you. Lauryn Redding spends half her time pantomiming with the audience as our emcee, Sir Toby, and the other half playing a dizzying array of brass, woodwind and strings. Mike Slader channels more than a touch of Rik Mayall's anarchic grinning charm as Aguecheek, with Emma MacDonald (Antonia) and Rebecca Lee (Viola) battling it out for best vocalist among some very fine voices.
The show is stolen by Peter Dukes as the lovelorn Malvolio, a lock forward dressed as Sally Bowles in yellow stockings and cross-garters, leavened with a touch of Radiohead (not all the songs are jazz standards). It's a comic tour-de-force, but...
Well, it merely enhances Malvolio's humanity. Sure he does some bad things - anyone with a name like that would - but who hasn't been a fool in love? Who hasn't been a little too censorious of those who hit the booze and expect others to clean up after them? Who hasn't been a bit Malvolioish? The punishment doesn't fit the crime, the absence of humility doesn't fit his tormentors and redemption is spurned in favour of threats. The whole thing is edging towards Taming of the Shrew levels of anachronistic problems.
A tip - read the plot summary in Wikipedia before watching the show (or cast an eye at this superb accompanying education pack). There's so much cross-dressing and gender swapped parts (and, yes, I do know that they would all have been played by men in Shakey's time) that it's hard to keep up with who's who at times, and the names are swallowed a little by the grand old hall's somewhat unsympathetic acoustics.
Ultimately such details count for little, as the sheer joie de vivre and the virtuosity of the company sweeps you along and, for all the snowflake-bothering subplots, Shakey invested his preposterous tale with some of his most luminous poetry and piercing aperçus.
In every sense, you get tremendous value for money from a show with exactly the kind of chaotic energy this unique venue was built to display.