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Twelfth Night. The Maltings, Zoom. (Susan Elkin reviews)

Twelfth Night, available to stream via Zoom until 14 June 2020.

Star rating: three stars ★ ★ ★ ✩ ✩

Adam Nichols’ bijou take on Shakespeare’s most silvery, summery, musical play is quirky and fun. We’re on a cruise liner, the SS Illyria, captained by Orsino. At the beginning it picks up the survivors of SS Elysium on which Sebastian and Viola are employed as vaudeville dancers.

And this is very firmly the hedonistic 1920s with lots of jazzy music (MD: Tom Cagnoni) played and sung by a talented actor-muso cast.

Given that there’s a 10 minute, jokily inclusive modern English introduction and occasional explanatory comments plus music we don’t get more than about 45 minutes of Shakespeare’s text so this could be a good starting point for children.

Anna Franklin gives us a deliciously blousy, all drinking all laughing Lady Toby Belch with scarlet lipstick and an abundance of curly hair. It’s a refreshing take on a familiar character.

Faith Turner’s Malvolia is slimy and sneering. Her vowel sounds are immaculately twisted and her consonants clipped to absurdity. Her yellow stockings scene (not cross gartered) is a delight and she’s an expressive singer.

It’s a nice touch to have Orsino (Will Forrester) playing his own “food of love” music on piano in his cabin and he develops the new passion for Viola (Flora Squires) effectively.

Squires is unusually convincing as Viola, with her little stick-on moustache and asides to camera. She too sings with passion and charisma.

So how does it all work live on Zoom? Well it’s quite an undertaking because this is also an interactive show with the audience asked to bring something to bang (for the drinking scene), to have something yellow to brandish in when Malvolia is misguidedly strutting her stuff and various other participation moments.

It means that Will Pattle, as Fabian and a quasi narrator, has to do technology trouble shooting as he goes along to keep everyone on board. Once the play moves into Shakespeare’s text it flows pretty smoothly with characters mostly in separate frames. The gulling scene works particularly well with the onlookers peering through portholes each in a separate frame.

The upbeat music between scenes is fun, effective and remarkably well synched. And it involves almost everyone. Hannah Francis-Baker as Feste is a talented singer and saxophonist and David Widdowson (Antonio) leads most numbers from piano, for example.

OVO theatre company’s show is an original concept and an entertaining 70 minutes but I would have preferred to see it live in a theatre – of course.

(First published by Musical Theatre Review)

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Susan Elkin
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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