‘Twelfth Night’ at King’s Theatre is a cheeky, fast-paced, screaming caper that prioritises laughs over plotline. One of Shakespeare’s most famous comedies, ‘Twelfth Night’ follows Viola, a young girl who is shipwrecked on a strange Greek island, as she changes her name to Cesario so that she can infiltrate a court for a job. There, she is given the task of wooing local diva Olivia for her boss, who she herself is falling in love with, unaware that her brother who she assumed was dead has actually survived trouble at sea. It is as complicated as it gets, and almost impossible to describe in a single sentence, however at the heart of it is a warm and genuine meditation on gender, love, and how to rebel against Puritanism. Fun for the whole family!
Stripped bare of any set, complex tech, or lavish costumes, the Merley Theatre company pride themselves on gender-blind casting and simple Shakespeare for all audiences. Their small cast double up roles, switching jackets and accents as Orsino becomes Toby Belch and Sebastian becomes Malvolio, which provides great opportunities for rib-tickling gags and winks to the audience. The only actor who maintains their character is Viola, a tiny Emmy Rose, swamped in over-sized trousers and jumpers. The chemistry of the whole cast is admirable, there is genuine fun to be had in seeing them bounce off one another and play with the words and empty stage. Sarah Peachey’s portrayal of Andrew Aguecheek steals the show as she leaps through the audience and bounds like a loose Labrador from wing to wing. Robert Myles’ Marvolio resembles a demonic marionette, charming but something to keep at a great distance.
This is carefree Shakespeare that delights in silly, often clumsy fun and games. However, whilst the comedy of Shakespeare’s twin shenanigans comes through clear, too often is the language lost. Orsino is heavily cut from the action, only appearing at the beginning and end, however as he is played by the same actor who plays Belch it becomes difficult to remember the differences between them. The pacing of the play also feels rushed and there is little time to pause and reflect on quieter, intimate moments, or truly relish in them. It is difficult, therefore, to be completely engrossed in the story of the show, and I worry that it would be inaccessible to younger audiences because of this. Undoubtedly, though, the comedic element shines through, and is reminiscent of olden-day players, as the joy the cast delight in during this performance is clear and infectious.