five stars

I must admit, before going to see I had my doubts about ‘Shakespeare in a Week’s’ portrayal of Twelfth Night, having never seen an amateur stage production before and knowing that they had only had a week to prepare, I had pretty low expectations for the potential quality of the show. But I figured, eh it’s for charity, with all proceeds going to Great Ormond Street Hospital and it’s something different to do on a Saturday other than consume my weight in strawberry laces whilst watching Modern Family, so off I went.

These doubts were hardly allayed when I walked into a big, empty room with about 12 chairs scattered about the edge, with the cast milling around the centre engaging in Shakespearian-type conversation.  My first thought was ‘Sweet Jesus, what a pretentiously avant-garde load of fudge this is going to be’. My second thought was ‘Ummm’ as the characters came to sit and talk to us… as if they were genuine 17th Century lords and ladies. It was sort of like being in DisneyWorld, where ‘Sleeping Beauty’ engages in small-talk about princes and fairies, and you have no idea how to respond with out seemingly like a cynical git or an overly enthusiastic seven year old. I went for surprise option C: inane nodding and nervous giggling.

HOWEVER, it then got good! The ‘curtain’ lifted and our heroine, Viola (Carly Brown) was revealed on the ship-wreck and we were ushered into a second room with little scenes such as Lord Orsino’s home and Olivia’s palace set up simply, with just some chairs and tables, leaving the actors to fill the stage. And wow, did they succeed in doing so!

The chosen play was Shakespeare’s famous comedy, Twelfth Night, of mistaken identity, cross-dressing and love triangles, squares and pentagons in fictional Illyria. Having only a week between finding out which play they would be expected to perform and Showtime to prepare, the production team really pulled it out the bag. The individual performances were flawless, everyone really dedicated themselves their role. The transition from scene to scene was smooth and nobody dropped the act, even when the attention was not focused specifically on them. And the memorisation of the entire dialogue in such a short period of time was super impressive, with maybe only 2 minor slip-ups that were quickly remedied. They maintained the interactive element, but in a less intimidating way, using us as shields and human illustrations of the labyrinthine story, which added some pantomime-like fun.

In terms of acting, my personal man of the match was Olivia (Anita Thomson), her exaggerated lecherous infatuation, bordering on stalking of Cesario/Viola (actually I think at one point she physically trailed him, so make that firmly in the realm of stalkerdom) was hilarious, the entire audience were guffawing away at her every scene.

The other leading performances were also brilliant, Orsino’s (Sam Dobson) egotistical naivety invited comparisons between modern day satirised bosses, such as The Office’s hilariously incompetent David Brent, or to our pals across the pond: Michael Scott. Antonio (Cam Bevan) and Sebastian’s (Chris Barlow) bromantic chemistry was fantastic. Also, Viola looked particularly dashing in her moustache. However, the success of the play was definitely a team effort, the supporting roles such as drunkard Sir Toby (Joel Jackson), stumbling about the stage and gleefully wreaking havoc, and Sir Andrew (Alex Bray) with his (her) idiotic tough-guy stretches all brought a smile to the face.

Overall, a real top-notch performance, with no real criticisms other than the initially unappealing pre-theatre experience and the annoyingly catchy concluding song, which haunted me for days ‘Finnd ma wayy home’- Damn it’s back. Anyway, the actual play was amazing and I thoroughly enjoyed myself! If you didn’t get a chance to watch this fab show, unfortunately it was a one-day only event so you’d better cross your fingers and toes for another production from these team of superbly talented individuals!

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  • Anony
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    Jade you’re awesome! Love your style, really entertaining read, please keep writing for the Tab!

    I agree with the beginning, only because I wonder if you can improvise Shakespeare? It’s so poetic and constructed that I guess if you start making it up yourself it does come out simply as a novelty, not really faithful to the characters. I think that’s what the show was going for though: a really nice, cheeky start to their charity piece of Shakespeare that theatre-buffs would chuckle at.

    Also if you continue to review Theatre Group shows, can I just suggest watching a few more micro-scale, amateur productions that are like this? ONLY because that beginning is exemplary of many small scale theatre productions, and you may not be surprised at the peripheral things amdram companies do to create unique entertainment. Please keep writing reviews, you’re awesome!

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    Jade Unwin
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    Aww thank you :’) I was really nervous about writing this, so its a relief that someone approves :p
    I’ll keep an eye out for more amateur productions, I’d love to see more!

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