Theatre Review: Twelfth Night

Words: Kevin Stanley
Friday 21 July 2023
reading time: min, words

Kevin Stanley reviews an outdoor performance of Twelfth Night...

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These performances of Twelfth Night are performed outdoors in Wellington Circus adjacent to the Playhouse so audience members are advised to come prepared, as whatever the weather, the show will go on. There is something very enjoyable about outdoor theatre in the UK. The hope of sun and the fear of rain, mixed with anticipation of what treatment may have been given to a Shakespeare classic to suit the generally more casual summer theatre visitor. Thankfully the weather was reasonably fine and the show played out in the warmth of a summer’s evening apart from a brief rain shower. Thankfully most people were prepared for this with suitable clothing and the play went on and it did not affect the performances of the four actresses.

The all-female cast played thirteen characters between them. Lisa Ambalavanar played Olivia, Maria and Valentine. Zoe May Dales played Sebastian, Malvolio, plus the Captain and the Priest. Charlotte East took on the roles of Viola, Cesario and Toby Belch. Whilst AK Golding performed the characters of Orsino, Andrew Aguecheek and the Servant. It was an ambitious idea but it worked well, marked out by many costume and accent changes. This approach added to the overall effect of the play which in itself is designed to confuse, misdirect and intrigue audiences. The quartet was adept at transitioning seamlessly from one character to another, using props, staging and sound effects to help to cover up the swaps and changes. It did get confusing at times but of course in Shakespeare’s day plays would have been performed by an all-male cast so perhaps this was in some way closer to being authentic than larger, more lavish productions.

All be it with a few knowing smiles to the audience

Twelfth Night deals with themes of love and death, it features twins, mistaken identities, and a shipwreck. At just eighty minutes some scenes have been abridged, or cut from the play entirely, this certainly had the effect of making the play brisker, but fortunately didn’t seem to lose too much of the important content. The performances were energetic, winsome and cheerful. The play kept a fast tempo throughout.

This production of Twelfth Night went for maximum fun, whimsy and audience participation. It was full of vibrancy and colour plus a wide array of various accents that added both literal and figurative colour to the performance.

The outside setting did struggle with some sound carrying, especially traffic noise. This was especially evident in the scenes that included singing. The actors did well to raise their voices as much as possible. Chimes at 6pm from the nearby clock, the sound of ambulances and even a car alarm all conspired to temporarily derail the performance. But the actors went on undeterred, all be it with a few knowing smiles to the audience. 

The production and direction of the play prepared Shakespeare in something akin to pantomime style. And it worked well as the actors frequently broke the fourth wall to interact with the audience and perhaps most importantly to engage with children - hopefully a great way to introduce them to the works of Shakespeare.

The performance made Shakespeare fun and accessible to a wide-ranging audience including children and was a fun and joyous way to spend a summer evening.

Twelfth Night is showing at Nottingham Playhouse from Wed 19 July to Sat 29 July 2023.

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