I did not know that a fusion of Shakespeare and pop-punk bangers was missing from my life. I didn’t even realise I wanted it. And yet, Olli Gilford’s production of Twelfth Night hit that apparent gap in the market with such precision that I haven’t stopped listening to their chosen soundtrack since.
A potted summary: Twelfth Night is arguably most famous for its twins, Sebastian (Grace Thorner) and Viola (Ellie Burke), who both end up shipwrecked and separately washed up on the island of Illyria, each thinking the other dead. Viola disguises herself as a boy, gets caught up in a love triangle of sorts between Duke Orsino (Seb Allum) and Lady Olivia (Iona Robson), and suddenly her brother turns up, looking exactly like her. Confusion and hilarity ensue – added to by a subplot involving a small host of comedic characters, and a striking pair of stockings.
However, in Gilford’s production, said subplot completely overshadowed the main events of the play. Lydia Seed’s Sir Toby Belch stole the show in a star turn as Oliva’s boorish, drunken, mischievous uncle, aided and abetted. Whether in scenes with Adam Spencer as a weedy yet hilarious and endearing Sir Andrew Aguecheek. It was their performances rather than the central love stories that captivated my attention and sustained my interest in the production – only improving with the additions of sassy servant Mary (Alex Bottomley), Fabian (Gareth Owen), and Feste (Bailey Fear). But as brilliant and achingly funny as these actors were, Gilford should not have allowed their scenes to eclipse the rest of the play.
There was such brilliant attention to detail in many aspects of the production, from the design concept – beginning the play with all the actors, props, furniture, and even some costumes on stage, gradually reducing to nothing but the cast and band (special guests Ricky Thunder and the Thought Police) – to the direction and pacing of comedic scenes such as Malvolio (Morgan Corby, in another standout performance from this cast) discovering and reading the fake letter from ‘Olivia’, with hilarious interjections from Seed, Spencer, and Owen. And yet, any aspect of the play not centred on the comedic subplot felt severely under-directed: there was little to no tension in any scenes that involved either underlying or overt romance amongst the leading players and a distinct lack of energy overall whenever the comedic capers made way for other scenes. Add to this the various lines lost due to several of the lead actors being too quiet or delivering lines towards the wings more than the audience, and you have a curiously off-kilter production.
But however off-balance it may have been, a play like Twelfth Night is, at heart, made to entertain us – and there’s no doubt that Gilford’s production did exactly that.