Friday 25 March 2016

Twelfth Night - Review

French Protestant Church, London


Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Cecilia Dorland

Harriet Hare

Following the acclaimed success of their production last year of Sad Stories of the Death of Kings, Scena Mundi mark their own celebrations of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death with a production of Twelfth Night, which they describe as "haute-couture and Surrealist" inspired. 

This time, the dreamlike world of Illyria, where nothing is as it seems, comes alive inside the fascinating French Protestant Church, a little hidden gem on Soho Square. This unconventional location, which could have lent a strong advantage to this production, instead proves itself problematic. During the first half in particular, the director, Cecilia Dorland, does not explore the full potential of the space, staging the performance in a very traditional way using the central aisle as main entrance and not helped by sometimes uncertain lighting. The result is that the cast does not seem to completely inhabit or fill the space. A far better result is achieved after the interval with the clever use of the organ niche as Malvolio’s cell: red-lit, uncomfortable and claustrophobic, it is the perfect setting for his despair. 

But, as noted by director Cecilia Dorland in the programme, this Twelfth Night aims to be fashionable and elegant. And, glamorously so, it is. Georgia Green’s costumes are simply outstanding – a brilliant mix of Renaissance aristocracy and New Romantics with a devilish touch of Jean Paul Gaultier. The opening procession resembles a terrific tableau vivant where Shakespeare meets, perhaps for the first time ever, Steve Strange’s Blitz Club. In the cast’s very first entrance the period court movement stirs a reminiscence for 80s posing, enhanced in some measure by Jean-Philippe Martinez’s glorious musical crescendo. 

Unfortunately, after such a sparkling start, the performance continues on a more conventional path, where perhaps one might have wished the fashion and surreal aspects to have been explored further. 

The cast unite impressively, with Harriett Hare embodying the mystery of Viola/Cesario – a riddle that is perceived but not solved by the other characters. Despair, resolution, wit and shy, tender love – all are gently conveyed by her fine performance. Edward Fisher’s Feste is a sardonic, wise fool; a surreal figure even in his gestures and movements; part the Pied Piper of Hamelin (especially in the opening procession), part mastermind of all the noble (or perhaps not always so much so) inhabitants of Illyria. 

Martin Prest’s Malvolio is perhaps the most enjoyable performance. Malvolio is quite a challenging character to play as there is the constant risk of delivering it simply as a ridiculously hideous figure, but he does much more than that. Prest’s distress in prison is sincere and when the joke is over in the choral happy ending it is hard not to sympathise with him. 

Scena Mundi’s Twelfth Night is an interesting and well-delivered project and whilst this production's eclectic setting may have proved just a little over-ambitious, it is certainly worth seeing. 

Runs until April 9th. 
Guest reviewer: Simona Negretto

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