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Twelfth Night

William Shakespeare
The Watermill Theatre
Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford

Twelfth Night Credit: Scott Rylander
Offue Okegbe as Feste and Rebecca Lee as Viola Credit: Scott Rylander

Twelfth Night—that most musical of plays—has been jazzed up quite literally by this talented company of actor musicians.

Beautifully staged as a very up-market and opulently decorated night club / speakeasy where large arched mirrors reflect, distort and revolve (designer Katie Lias), a soulful rendition of Hoagy Carmichael’s "Georgia on my Mind" sets the scene as members of the audience are invited to dance.

Not long though before everything becomes more frenetic, especially in the case of Duke Orsino (Jamie Satterthwaite) who gives the appearance of being a bit of a nutcase as he jumps and jerks about in a strange manner while occasionally addressing the audience too. I suppose he is mad with grief at the thought that the Lady Olivia will have none of him.

It is often the case nowadays to ignore gender while casting for a play, but here Sir Toby Belch played by a woman doesn’t quite ring true, although very well performed, and the ship’s Captain bringing the twin Sebastian to Illyria was definitely coming from a different angle as she declared love for him. It would be as well to have at least some slight knowledge of the play beforehand as it can be confusing at the best of times, and my guest that evening was totally lost with the story but thoroughly enjoyed the show just the same.

Music is paramount, all played and sung by these extremely talented and versatile actors on an amazing variety of instruments and often very pertinent to the text or action. Viola’s song ending “I’m coming back as a man” just before she becomes Cesario caused a few chuckles, and "La Vie En Rose" at the presentation of a rose was appropriate, while "What is the Thing called Love" appeared several times. Even Feste’s song at the end is given a slight twist in melody and rhythm.

There are some very strong performances, particularly from Victoria Blunt as the maid Maria, Rebecca Lee as Viola / Cesario and Lauryn Redding is probably as convincing a Sir Toby as a woman can manage to be. Her singing too is a dream, so much so that at one point while Cesario and Olivia are talking below, her softly whispered "Georgia on my Mind" from the balcony had me transfixed.

The scene of Malvolio finding the fake letter is very fast and very funny as the conspirators whisk into hiding every time he turns round, sometimes a double base acting as stand-in for the box hedge, and as for Malvolio himself—Peter Dukes plays pompous and dignified as to the manner born, but his transformation into the yellow stockings outfit has to be seen to be believed and probably the comical high spot of the evening.

Would Shakespeare have enjoyed this very unusual version of one of his most famous plays? I’d like to bet that he would have thoroughly approved—and probably joined in. A real gem of a show stylishly directed by Paul Hart. Not to be missed.

Reviewer: Sheila Connor