EDITOR’S NOTE: The editorial staff at Radio Monash would like to make it clear that the writer of this article was involved, in some capacity, with the pre-production of the musical. Though we trust that this does not influence the writers judgement, the team at Radio Monash feels as though this statement is needed for the sake of transparency and proper ethics.
William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night is a classic tale of romance, scheming and mistaken identity. Twins Viola and Sebastian are separated in a shipwreck, both assuming the other to be dead. Viola dresses up as a boy and falls in love with Duke Orsino, who is in love with Olivia, who, thinking she is a man, falls in love with Viola.
The Monash Shakespeare Company’s production of the bard’s story was brave and creative. While it had some truly hilarious moments of physical comedy, homage to the text felt lacking at times. Although ultimately entertaining, many aspects of the performance didn’t quite “fadge.”
One may think that the story of Twelfth Night is complicated enough as is, which is possibly why the slightly misguided choice to introduce the concept of time travel into the narrative just didn’t work. Aside from making a play which is already difficult to follow at best of times more complicated, the set itself was poorly designed. The large time machine in the centre of the stage took up a lot of space, rendering a large part of the small performance area unusable. Considering the time machine was only used three times throughout the show, the restrictions its presence imposed makes it difficult to justify.
To put it simply: I am lost as to why the time travel was necessary, and I particularly question the choice of sending the characters into the early 2000s, especially when a film adaptation of the script already exists in that era. Unless the performance was intended to pay homage to She’s The Man, the recontextualisation while nostalgic, felt previously exhausted.
Twelfth Night is a funny script, however from an audience perspective it felt as if many lines were not understood by the actors thus the majority of the jokes did not land. This is not to say that the show was un-funny, however, many moments of comedy relied on the addition of lines spoken in contemporary English. By not allowing Shakespeare’s comedy to shine through, the show belittled the audience, assuming that we would not be able to understand the original humour. Good performances of Shakespeare do not rely on additions to make the audience laugh.
Honestly, over all I did enjoy the show. The moments that were funny were hilarious – with Dylan Marshall as Malvolio particularly presenting a performance that was as well endowed in quality as it was in… other areas. Marshall brought his own quirks and sense of comedic timing to the role, a clear stand-out for the night.
Elly D’Arcy brought the whimsical Feste to life. Her characterisation was lovely and brought a sense of tomfoolery to the scene to the constant delight of the audience. Even more impressive is D’Arcy’s musical ability, her decent skills on the guitar are shadowed by her absolutely stunning voice. The music lover inside me longed for more moments of song from D’Arcy whenever she wasn’t singing. Alas, as delightful as the character of Feste was, and as remarkable as D’Arcy’s voice is, when she sang we lost all signs of the character which was a shame, but did not detract too much from the wonderful performance.
However, it was Reilly Holt as Sir Andrew who really stole the show. While not a major character, Holt’s understanding of the script really came through to the audience. This combined with his impeccable comedic timing drew all eyes to Holt whenever he was on the stage. I can’t sing higher praise; Sir Andrew was everyone’s favourite character raising the energy on stage whenever he was present. As a result, the subplot involving Sir Andrew, Sir Toby (Bernd Faveere), and Maria (Rebecca Catalano) always caused the audience to become more engaged. While Catalano and Faveere brought fairly strong characters to the performance, it was when combined with Holt that these scenes really worked. A credit to the directors is due here, knowing where the strength of the performance lies, cutting scenes of the more central characters allowed a greater focus to exist on the trio of schemers and Malvolio, who together saved the show.
Where the play lacked was in the execution of the major plot. Some of this was lost as a result of the unnecessary time-travel, other aspects missing as a result of seeming to not fully understand what it was that they were saying. Whether this is the fault of the actors or the directors it is hard to say, but it undeniably led to disengagement from the audience during crucial scenes in the plot. To further disappointment, there was absolutely no chemistry between the lovers making the relationships all feel forced and artificial. This may be due to the scenes cut from the text leading up to this moment. In particular, the relationship between Viola and the Duke felt very sudden and out of the blue.
Despite what may be a harsh review, I really did enjoy the show. I say none of this to discourage the cast and crew who have evidently worked very hard and undeniably have some great talent among you. I applaud you for your effort and what is indeed a very funny show and wish you luck for the rest of your season.
For anyone wanting a night of cheap entertainment, tickets range from $12-$18 and can be purchased at https://www.trybooking.com/Booking/BookingEventSummary.aspx?eid=229029. “Twelfth Night” closes Saturday night at the Monash MUST Theatre.