I admit that when I walked into 601 on Tuesday night I was a little bit taken aback; the usual rabble of drunken guys and girls parading around the dancefloor was instead replaced by a rabble of (seemingly) drunken Shakespeare actors. ‘Twelfth Night’ was an evening of both revelry and laughter and real theatrical talent.
This production resituated Shakespeare’s original drama into the 1920s prohibition age in New York, while still retaining its original iambic pentameter verse. The main stage and entryway were adorned with layers of gold tinsel, while the usual tiered seating was replaced with the more informal set up of chairs placed around large round tables, with the effect of to some degree dismantling the typical actor/ audience separation. The actors themselves darted through the audience regularly, immersing us in the production so much so that it was easy to forget altogether that we were watching a play and not in fact part of the world that Cesario, Orsino and Olivia and their accomplices were cultivating before our eyes.
Modernising Shakespeare is always a risk, but in this case it was executed admirably. If anything, it made his words resonate more. For example, I could not help but compare Viola’s struggle to maintain a strong ‘manly’ front and resist her natural romantic feelings towards Orsino, (because for a man to love a man would be unthinkable), with the acute pressure that rigid gender conventions tend place on both men and women today. The memes about the play that were spread over the tables were also surprisingly welcome; despite being an English student myself, my knowledge of Shakespeare plays can get embarrassingly rusty, and these well-executed memes served as a quick and humorous way of ensuring that no member of the audience was left behind in any of the play’s key moments of jocularity.
Respects should be paid to the cast; doing justice to the words of Shakespeare is no easy feat, but the performers took a good stab at it - Sir Toby and Sir Andrew were exquisite in their drunkenness, Viola equally convincing both in mirth and despair, Malvolio proved a powerful force on the stage, and Feste’s voice was truly gorgeous.
Feste’s jazz band, it should be noted, was also just as important in the success of this production; guiding our emotional responses through the ebbs and flows of the play, this was the talent of a typical St Andrews Jazz Night taken to the next level.
This was indeed an immensely enjoyable rendition of Shakespeare, then; if only reading Shakespeare in my literature classs produced the same amount of hilarity and glee.