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Twelfth Night

William Shakespeare
Filter Theatre in association with the RSC
Bath Theatre Royal and touring
(2010)

It makes absolute sense that Filter Theatre Company has achieved a cool, cult kudos with their off-kilter re-visiting of some of the great mainstays of theatre, including Caucasian Chalk Circle and Three Sisters.

Twelfth Night won't please all purists. But in the conservative confines of Bath theatre Royal's main house, it undoubtedly pleased plenty of them. It's an anarchic, spontaneous and sexy impression of the original, played on an empty stage, stripped to the fly ropes.

The actor-musicians dribble on to the stage at the start, one sipping on his cuppa, another clutching his Special Brew. And more then one of the cast look like Real Ale pundits. The house lights are never dimmed and the actors spill off the stage and into the auditorium at will.

The backbone of the production is its sound score. The stage is littered with instruments, mics and sound equipment and from the off, much is made of music as the "food of love". In fact, this is the essence of Filter's success, particularly here, in partnership with the Lyric's Sean Holmes: a genuinely collaborative rehearsal process enables them to hone in on an arresting, undervalued aspect of a text. In this case - music.

The mayhem they create in the auditorium is extraordinary. Their energy and irreverence for theatre protocol means that the audience is drawn in, despite themselves, in a way that compares far more to great theatre for children than to the likes of the RSC. I don't remember having seen Bath's front row stalls being induced to clamber on stage for Tequila shots before, for example. Nor an actor pausing to dole out pizza deliveries.

On paper it's hard to get across the impact of this mayhem. It will have to suffice to say that you are left with a sense that you have encountered this 400-year-old play for the very first time. And that, for all its anarchy, you have been treated to a far more authentic twenty-first century taste of a sixteenth century evening at the theatre.

Filter have made no disguise of the fact that this is a production born out of only two weeks' rehearsal. And it is true that some of the performances would benefit from a sharper, more authentic voice - not that this detracts from the evening's irresistible energy. But Ferdy Robert's Malvolio is spectacular, and Jonathan Broadbent's Orsino and Oliver Dimsdale's Toby Belch are equally engaging.

And this is one hell of a way to encounter Shakespeare.

Runs at Bath Theatre Royal until 19th June

Amy Yorston reviewed this production at the Tricycle, Kilburn

Reviewer: Allison Vale