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Review: TWELFTH NIGHT, Shakespeare North Playhouse

The best Shakespeare production you will see this year

By: Jun. 12, 2024
Review: TWELFTH NIGHT, Shakespeare North Playhouse  Image
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Review: TWELFTH NIGHT, Shakespeare North Playhouse  ImageAward winning Theatre company Not Too Tame return with their latest production - William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night - and I can say without a doubt, that it is the best Shakespeare production you will see this year.

Having previously staged A Midsummer Night’s Dream in collaboration with the Shakespeare North Playhouse, Not Too Tame are collaborating once more with the theatre on this exciting new production which sees the story set in the background of a music festival.

Review: TWELFTH NIGHT, Shakespeare North Playhouse  Image

Not Too Tame aim to keep the audience at the heart of the production and they achieve exactly that from beginning to end - and not just in the actual production itself. As soon as you walk into the Shakespeare North Playhouse, you are handed a festival wristband with the words ‘Twelfth Night’ written on them, before being entertained with live music - performed by talented musicians Georgia Frost and Tom Sturgess - who play Viola and Sebastian in Twelfth Night. Along with lots of interactive signs to have your photo taken by, you really feel you are at a festival as soon as you walk through the doors, which builds up your excitement and anticipation for the play.

The cast continue to build up the atmosphere in the minutes before the production, as you watch festival crew members onstage tuning up the instruments and talking to the audience. The wonderful Louise Haggerty as Feste then asks the audience to join in a sing-along, which cleverly ties in with the production’s final musical number. It is an immersive theatre experience that makes you feel that you are part of the story itself, making the entire evening very enjoyable.

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The music festival setting works very well not only to build up the atmosphere, but also to communicate the themes of the play, including love, loss and friendship. Directed by the brilliant Jimmy Fairhurst, each member of the cast takes centre stage to perform a series of musical numbers that perfectly capture their emotions at that point in the story - from Purvi Parmar's beautiful performance of Shakespeares Sister’s ‘Stay’ as Olivia, or Les Dennis’ wonderful acapella rendition of ‘Smile’ as Malvolio.

Fairhurst is an excellent director who makes use of the theatre in the round space to maximum effect. The cast sit with audience in parts during the production and make use of the space to bring the story to life, whether that is running through the seating or asking the audience to become involved by switching on a radio onstage. Together, it heightens the immersive feel of the play even more and works very well to keep you engaged from start to finish.

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Good Teeth Design Studio’s set is also used well by the cast, particularly in the scene when Les Dennis’ Malvolio is reading a fake love letter from Olivia. There is some cleverly crafted dialogue in that scene that leaves the audience roaring with laughter as Kate James (Maria), Jack Brown (Sir Toby Belch) and Reuben Johnson (Sir Andrew Aguecheek) keep lifting up stage panels and appear from underneath the stage to comment on Malvolio’s reaction to the letter.

There are not enough words to say how brilliant the cast are. Every cast member delivers a stand out performance, with highlights including James, Johnson and Brown’s fun dance number to Blondie’s 'Maria', Haggerty’s well-timed jokes to the audience and Parmar, Sturgess and Frost’s incredible musical performances.

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Johnson delivers outstanding character multi-rolling as both Orsino and Sir Andrew Aguecheek too, with one scene in act two seeing him run offstage as Orsino and within seconds, return as Aguecheek - complete with a costume change. It is incredible and a seamless character change that leaves the audience cheering in applause.

Les Dennis is also a delight to watch as Malvolio. Combining dry humour and witty one-liners with the seriousness of Malvolio’s character, Dennis’ performance is phenomenal. Along with making the audience laugh with his reactions to reading Olivia's letter, or his entrance in the famous yellow stockings in act two, his performance is flawless.

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In the programme for Twelfth Night, Les talks about his first memories of seeing the play himself when he was a teenager and how it inspired him - and I am sure there will be audience members watching Not Too Tame’s production, who will be inspired by and will remember this production for many years to come.

Exciting, engaging and exceptionally good fun, if I could give Twelfth Night more than five stars, I would.

Twelfth Night is at Shakespeare North Playhouse until 29 June 2024.

Photo credit: Patch Dolan


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