Shakespeare’s comedies are full of farce, occasionally lewd jokes, mistaken identity and a healthy dose of gender confusion. Twelfth Night is no exception, however Pell Mell Theatre Company have managed to delicately twist this gender swap romantic comedy into a darker tale of a man being driven mad by his peers.
Performed in The Space (near Mudchute DLR station), Twelfth Night takes on the atmosphere of a disheveled Victorian circus, an atmosphere only heightened by the The Space being in a renovated church. With swathes of red fabric hanging over the audience like a Big Top, and ever so slightly sinister circus music piped into the small auditorium, we are immediately transported to another time. The characters of Twelfth Night, all playing their part in this circus of confusion, are introduced to the audience through a gentle overture and dance. Dance is a huge part of Pell Mell’s production, and becomes the glue holding the show together.
Malvolio, famed for his cross gartered yellow stockings, is generally seen as a pompous figure of fun, however Pell Mell expand on this hugely and add a dark twist to his tale as we watch a sinister Feste and his cohorts drive Malvolio to insanity. Therefore the humour and romance of Twelfth Night is somewhat overshadowed by this take on Malvolio’s story. Played with pomposity and sincerity by Andrew Seddon, who brings an unexpected vulnerability to the character.
Lucy Laing as Olivia was a constant joy to watch on stage, as she performed the demanding and occasionally stroppy young woman with conviction. And Ella Garland kept the plot moving with her performance as Viola.
The action is constantly accompanied by an almost Greek chorus made up of Valentine, Balthazar, Lorenzo and Stephano who act as commentators on the action, stage hands and a contemporary dance group. At first their presence seems distracting but very quickly you become used to their movements on stage, and their dance like performances were all perfectly timed and enjoyable to watch.
The moments of true comedy are perhaps rarer than we are used to when watching a Shakespearean comedy, and I suspect this is down to Pell Mell Theatre’s slightly darker take on the story. The pace picks up within the second half and we are soon enjoying the unravelling of identity as Sebastian (David Lenick) makes his appearance. A truly comic moment was the fight of Sir Andrew (Angus Howard) and Olivia staged within a makeshift boxing ring. The choreography and direction in this scene was spot on, and unlike any performance of Twelfth Night I have seen before.
In order to add depth and intimacy to some scenes, the actors sat or knelt on the floor however be warned – if you’re anywhere but the front row you will lose sight of them! The circus adaptation works well for this production, and whilst the comedy and charm you expect from Twelfth Night is not as present, the sinister theatrics of the cast give this centuries old tale a dark and inventive twist.
Twelfth Night by Pell Mell Theatre Company is performed at The Space, London until 8th August 2015.
Disclaimer: I was provided with a complimentary ticket to this production by Pell Mell Theatre Company. All views and opinions expressed on this blog are my own.