Twelfth Night

There’s a storm. Noble identical twins are separated and cast away in an enemy realm. Thus begins Twelfth Night, Shakespeare’s best known and most performed comedy. What follows is the classical version of chaos, as genders are bent, hierarchies inverted and falsehoods embraced. It’d be pleasant farce were it not for the bard’s x-ray verse which picks out in seemingly endless flashes, every bone of the human condition.

The plot unfurls smoothly and the actors are all well cast and within their comfort zones. There is little to fault their collective performance, which is brave yet restrained.

It falls, therefore, to its players to present these forensic findings and to pare away as much of the flesh of theatricality and exposition as possible without losing the pulse of entertainment. Sussex based, not-for-profit Academy for Creative Training do a pretty good job of this by providing a fairly straight delivery: pacey, unspun and accurate, drawing a good number of laughs from the audience.

The plot unfurls smoothly and the actors are all well cast and within their comfort zones. There is little to fault their collective performance, which is brave yet restrained. Martin Razpopov gives an interestingly grungy Orsino, wringing life with bangle clad wrists from the famous opening speech on love addiction. Elijah Braik’s bonhomme, Sit Toby Belch, also tickles as one half of his Laurel and Hardy duo with Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Matt Robinson). The performances of Viola (Emma Howarth), Olivia (Sarah Griffin) Maria (Annie Packman) and Feste (Jim Truscott) are all consistent and affecting. Malvolio, the play’s Sheldon, is nicely undercooked as an apparatchik we’ve all tried to avoid at the watercooler.

And yet it is the restraint which suffuses the 90-minute interval-less production, this refusal to dilute the holy water, that ultimately fails to satisfy. There is no scenery for instance, and few props. The actors lurk downstage when not performing and all wear contemporary dress. The result is a burred focus, a lack of vision. Shakespeare may be the eternal genius, but in Twelfth Night he dissects the highly specific context of a renaissance court, the morphology of which (unfortunately) does not include a watercooler. So when Malvolio cycles onto the stage on a Brompton folding bicycle like a cross between John Cleese and David Brent, we sense, through its very suggestion, an absence of context – and a missed opportunity.

Twelfth Night gets a lot of airtime these days not merely because of its adamantine speeches, songs and one-liners but because its examination of power, sexuality, identity, and class seem so wonderfully telling. However, a contemporary audience needs more saliva to chew the hard tack of Elizabethan drama. Poetry readings tend to lead to cases of bum-ache. Here the sincerest parts - fine acting, pace and measured directorship (the highly experienced John Link) - do not add up to a sum that equals fun.

Reviews by Charley Ville

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The Blurb

Shipwrecked twins land on the exotic isle of Ilyria, each believing the other has drowned. Disguise, deception, unrequited love, folly and confusion set the scene for this hilarious comedy of mischief, madness and infatuation.

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