In Wils Wilson’s newest take on Twelfth Night, characters are not so much dressed but drenched in charity shop psychedelia, bringing to the stage waves of charming colour and sparkle. Set in a rotting artist’s house, a group of buzzed artists decide to perform the play to amuse themselves after days of hazy stupor. It is a fun, enjoyable show that has a lot to gawk and giggle at, however when the bell-bottoms are peeled away (quite literally) there isn’t really anything new or engaging underneath.
The majority of the show’s energies are put into producing the original music that accompanies the script, and this is created and performed with whimsical delight. It is well-composed, suitably indifferent to the intended time period of the production, and at times extremely moving. Songs provide nice intervals between dialogue-heavy scenes, and great character moments: Andrew Aguecheek’s lament about his first love is the cutest thing I’ve ever seen, and Tobi Belch’s punk rager ‘Hold Thy Peace, Knave’ needs to be my new ringtone.
However, with a lot of focus on the design of the show, some of the performances lack the same dazzle as their sequined jackets. The play’s famous love-hexagon feels flat and uninteresting compared to the capers of the supporting cast of jokers, and the romance feels forced even by Shakespearean standards. The subplot of Malvolio (Christopher Green) versus Andrew and Tobi (Guy Hughes and Dawn Sievewright, respectively) is much more dynamic , and the trio are obvious audience favourites. Another crowd pleaser, Dylan Read’s Feste is what happens when you splice the DNA of a person and a hippie van; lots of jingling and groovy clothes, permeated with an odd sense of the ethereal.
However, the show lacks some necessary heart and seems to lose its way from its intended point. The programme discusses how the creators of the production were interested in investigating the nuances of gender and sexuality on the stage, but by the show’s conclusion I couldn’t help but feel as though nothing new had been added to what the original script already offers. The Shakespearean stage already plays with cross-dressing and blurred gender binaries by nature of its form, so it is no longer surprising or challenging to feature women playing men, especially if the pronouns or titles are not changed. In the show, only one female actress plays an originally male character with the name and pronouns changed, while no men play traditionally female roles*. The only hint of the latter comes when yellow stockings and garters translates to vaguely Ru Paul costuming, and even this is played off as a joke. It feels lazy, and as our understandings of gender are expanding beyond simple binaries nowadays, it’s unimpressive. Despite being set during the movement of anarchic free-love, it is surprisingly passive.
Furthermore, when comparing the supposed 60s-inspired setting of the production to historical events concerning the very ideas of queerness and identity that Wilson attempts to address, the setting feels more like an excuse for some trippy colours and musical arrangements. The decade of free love was truly only that for those who were not prejudiced against by the law, who were not angrily and actively picketing against homophobic media and legislation. There is a well of gleeful opportunity to be found in this; a production which hails the blurring of binaries and boundaries as the rebellion that it was. Instead, it is made into fun for doped-up artists: although this is still a valid (albeit useless framing device), it’s disappointing.
While the three-hour runtime may be off-putting for some, the show thankfully never feels turgid or tiring. This production of Twelfth Night is still an entertaining show, full of song and life.
*This is based on assumption, however; actor pronouns were not provided.
All photos provided by Mihaela Bodlovic.
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