Twelfth Night @ Tricycle Theatre, London

cast list
Oliver Dimsdale, Jonathan Broadbent, Syreeta Kumar, Poppy Miller, Ferdy Roberts, Gemma Saunders, Tom Haines. Ross Hughes, Alan Pagan, Russell Marsh

directed by
Sean Holmes
The stage was set up as if for a gig not a play.

There was a drum kit and guitars and a couple of keyboards. All very appropriate as Filter’s raucous production of Twelfth Night, a co-production with the RSC that originally played as part of the Complete Works Festival, is more a riff on Shakespeare then a reverent staging.

Some may shudder at this squished rendition of the Bard, but others will delight in its invention and energy.

The production has been around for a while now and is returning to the Tricycle for one last triumphant week before bowing out.

It’s a messy, exuberant staging with sense of improvisation and chaos.
There are back-flips and tequila shots and kissing and clowning and a general sense of anarchy. The storm is conveyed by the shipping forecast on short-wave radio and a tea-cup trembling like in Jurassic Park; at one point pizza arrives and is happily consumed by the audience.

There is no set to speak of, only the instruments and a few gadgets and props, so Illyria is brought to life through sound. Music plays a central role to the production. Sir Toby Belch, played by a staggering, beer-swigging Oliver Dimsdale, the only member of the cast in Elizabethan garb, grabs a microphone and begins to whisper in to it, softly at first, but his song gradually grows until the whole cast are involved. Even the sing-along resistant, of which I am very much one myself, were tapping their feet along.

On the afternoon I saw it, more than half the audience seemed to be composed of school parties, many of whom were loud and fidgety and disinclined to pay attention, but the company handled the situation with real skill and grace, whipping up the crowd and then calming them down again when required. Only when Ferdy Roberts’ stern, cardigan-clad Malvolio slips into his second adolescence and strips to his yellow socks, did things threaten to topple into chaos, the sight of bit of man torso clearly too much for some.

Running at just ninety minutes, this is Shakespeare condensed; inevitably things are lost and there isn’t much room for nuanced acting, only Poppy Miller’s camouflaged Viola in a borrowed man’s jacket gets close to the emotional heart of her character. The fast pace and the regular musical breaks mean that some clarity was lost: the fact that Miller was playing both Viola and Sebastian seemed to baffle the girls in front of me, who during one of the closing scenes asked “why’s she talking to herself?”

But what it lacks in polish it makes up for in energy and a sense of the festive (and there’s always the Donmar’s production which opens next week with David Jacobi if you want a more conventional Twelfth Night). This is fresh and vibrant theatre: flexible and accessible without being condescending to its audience, shimmering with ideas yet never disconnected from the spirit of the material. Catch it while you can.

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