Wilton’s Music Hall – until 22 September 2018
Reviewed by Claire Roderick
Watermill Theatre bring their critically acclaimed production of Twelfth Night to London, with the beautiful and atmospheric Wilton’s Music Hall transforming into The Elephant Club.
As the audience trickle in, emcee Sir Toby Belch (Lauryn Redding) and the house band, The Eunuchs, entertain with a series of jazz standards and jazz versions of modern songs, introducing the characters as they sing their solos, until Duke Orsino (Jamie Satterthwaite) enters and begins his manically goofy conducting of the band before the play’s famous opening line.
Shakespeare’s bonkers tale of crossdressing love is perfect for this approach, with Redding’s Sir Toby – already established as emcee/music hall clown – orchestrating events for her own enjoyment and the audience’s entertainment making the inherent cruelty of Belch, Feste and Maria’s actions more palatable in this alcohol fuelled pantomime world. The plot: twins separated by storm at sea, sister dresses as her brother and goes to work for lovesick duke, who she falls in love with, but is sent to woo his beloved, who falls in love with her/him, is ridiculous, but the ensemble carry the audience along on a wave of euphoria that many productions just can’t manage, and there are many more belly laughs erupting around the hall than I’ve heard in previous productions of this play.
The actor-musicians showcase their musical skills throughout, with director Paul Hart recreating the ebb and flow of the tide in the scene changes, with evocative wave tossed movement or upbeat musical numbers complementing the storyline beautifully. And those songs! Fitting perfectly with the story, the ensemble belt out some beauties, with Peter Dukes as Malvolio’s artfully camp “Royals” a joyful way to end act one, and the ensemble’s “Creep” creating a disturbing background to Malvolio’s incarceration. Not many productions manage to make Malvolio sympathetic, but having Dukes despairingly watching Olivia in Sebastian’s arms will soften the hardest of hearts… until he acts like a pompous prat again in the final scene. The whole ensemble are terrific, with Mike Slader’s Aguecheek a glorious caricature of every Wodehouse character, with a dash of the anarchy of the Young Ones thrown in.
This is a wonderful production for lovers of Shakespeare, and a wonderful introduction for newcomers. Watermill Theatre have created a stunning reminder that Shakespeare’s plays don’t have to be stuffy affairs with a silly yet soulful production that will tickle your funny bones and get your feet tapping. I just wish the band could have followed Orsino’s instructions and played on all night.