“If this were played upon a stage now, I could condemn it as an improbable fiction.” Act 3.
I urge those potential audience members unfamiliar with this play (like me) to read the Wiki (or other) synopsis two or three times before you come along to this outstanding production, because it is thoroughly deceptive and even more enthralling than Jed Mercurio’s “The Bodyguard” that is thrilling British TV audiences right now.
It’s a Shakespearian comedy, verging, at times, on farce. And one can immediately understand why Ade Edmondson was cast as Malvalio in last year’s Royal Shakespeare production. It’s a high comedy role but needs considerable light and shade to work throughout. Unquestionably this is achieved in bucket loads by Christopher Green here in Edinburgh (transferring as a Co-Pro to Bristol Old Vic for a month from 17 October), he’s the star turn in a simply brilliant ensemble.
He certainly lives up to his famous line…
“Some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon ’em.”
But my God it’s complicated. Take this for a start.
In Shakespeare’s original (which this stays true to script-wise if not cast-wise). Viola cross-dresses as a man to chase (but fall in love with) Olivia on behalf of his boss Orsino. Viola having been cast adrift from her almost identical looking twin brother Sebastian.
Now, get what Wils Wilson does.
Viola is a black female. That’s fine
Her identical brother, Sebastian, though, is a white female. So they couldn’t possibly be mistaken as the same person.
Olivia. That’s straightforward, she’s a white female. Easy.
Orsino is a black female, not male.
So the love triangle is now three females, two of colour and the “identical twin”, also female, is white. That makes the finale tricky if you aren’t concentrating.
Let’s chuck in Lord Tobi Belch. Not a Lord. A lady. Which makes his, sorry her, suitoring of the maid, Maria, very 21st century.
I don’t say any of this to pass judgement because it’s a key constituent of what makes this production so enthralling. But it’s complicated (as if it wasn’t anyway.)
So we have sex and skin colour deviations from the source material but we also, as you might expect, have a time-shift to deal with. It’s set in the summer of love (1960’s sometime) at a party, or perhaps in a commune, where the bored or drugged partygoers suggest they “do” Twelfth Night.
That then places the musical ensemble, led with gusto by the one off that is Aly Macrae, in a musical nirvana which is a huge opportunity for composer Meilyr Jones (who also plays Curio).
And it has to be great because, after all, as the bard himself says (Act 1 scene 1) “If music be the food of love, play on.”
It is, and they do.
In fact the music is outstanding, immediately likeable, tuneful and with a real groove (I loved it) and it gifts Curio, Feste (brilliant performance by Dylan Read) and Auguecheek (Guy Hughes) almost unlimited show stopping moments.
Feste had us rolling in the aisles – at one point we were treated to a Marti Feldman moment that is burned onto my retina.
I cared a little less for Dawn Seivewright’s Lady Tobi as I felt it was just a little too 100% full on, although it is a massive performance.
The set design by Ana Inés Jabares-Pita – try saying that after a few Chardonnays doll – is enthralling and remains beautiful throughout.
The costumes are triumphal.
And, of course, the whole thing would just be a conundrum wrapped up in an enigma without the brilliant direction and vision of director Wils Wilson.
This is gonna be a great export from Scotland when it hits Bristol later this year. In the meantime fellow Scots, get yersel’ along.