Felicity Juckes reviews the final DST show of the year.
In the final week of the summer term, HBT brings one of Shakespeare’s greatest comedies to life on Hild Bede’s lawn, and despite three of their cast only stepping into their roles this week, their production of Twelfth Night offered a charming, slick evening of entertainment.
The setting of a secluded grove surrounded by picnic blankets created a romantic, mellow atmosphere to begin the play. The effect was consolidated by the simple accompaniment of three instruments, composed by Musical Director Rhys Rodrigues, whose music is described by Sir Toby Belch (Charlie Keable) as ‘very sweet and contagious’, and is just that. Interjections of song throughout the performance acted as enjoyable intervals to the drama and safeguarded the performance from falling into the trap of becoming too dry, as can be a danger in Shakespearean productions.
Director Jenny Baker’s decision not to impose an extravagant backdrop to set the comedy was greatly received, with a simple circular stage with multiple exits successfully bringing out repetitive, convoluted aspects of the story. Similarly, the absence of lighting and sound provoked a sigh of relief as the sole focus of the production became the performances of the cast, who all dealt with the complexity of the text admirably, and made the humour accessible and relevant to a modern audience. Rosie Minnitt’s captivating and engaging storytelling as Viola created a naturalistic impression, and she managed to seamlessly speak in Shakespearean verse as if it were typical modern English. The exceptional comedic performances of Emily McLean (Sir Andrew), whom no one could guess had only joined the cast this week, and Charlie Keable, who after just one day of rehearsals carried off a thoroughly convincing portrayal of the bawdy, drunken Sir Toby Belch in a Roger Allam-esque manner. This ostentatious style of humour was balanced by the more subtle performances of Kishore Thiagarajan-Walker (Orsino) and Rosie Dart (Olivia), as well as Meriel Killeen’s surprisingly dry yet highly effective interpretation of the Clown.
While the eclectic mixture of modern-style costume communicated the timelessness of Shakespeare’s work, it might have been more helpful for the audience had it been used to guide us through the confusion of a plot which relies so heavily on disguise. This tool was employed to great effect during the portrayal of Feste’s change in and out of disguise as the curate ‘Sir Topas’, where the simple removal and replacement of a hat steered the audience through what could have become a highly puzzling scene. Instead, this clarity allowed us to fully focus on and appreciate the outstanding performances of Killeen and Ginny Leigh (Malvolio) as they simultaneously conveyed the hilarity and cruelty of the episode.
An area where it could have been used more effectively was to help distinguish between male and female characters, as at points it became difficult to navigate between actors that had been cast gender-blind and those which were cross-dressing within the story. Nevertheless, this was made up for by the “masculinity-exuding” physicality of those cast in male roles such as Josie Williams (Sebastian) and Kesia Schofield (Fabian), and Rosie Minnitt’s constant light tone to remind us that she is merely impersonating a man.
This performance would have been an impressive feat even without the knowledge that the cast had only been filled on Wednesday, and was an enchanting way to end the year.