A hidden treasure in the depths of Soho Square is, this night, host to Twelfth Night. The French Protestant Church becomes a bustling world of disguise, mistaken identity and love, after a shipwreck tears apart the twins Viola and Sebastian. Scena Mundi theatre company produces a skilled piece of theatre in an interesting setting, although not without fault.
A catwalk-style opening launches us into the world of self-love, glamour and disguise, introducing us to the main characters of the show. Georgia Green has elegantly dressed the cast in neither Elizabethan/Jacobean nor modern fashion but somewhere in-between, giving scope for intriguing styles and a true reflection of each character. I was fascinated to see how the catwalk feature would be intertwined with the action throughout the scripted dialogue, but unfortunately it was a forgotten concept and lost where it could be so ingeniously used.
The execution of Shakespeare’s work is comedic and imaginative. From the start. Feste (played by Edward Fisher) is perceived as a curious, controlling, controlled and playful character and his songs blend flawlessly with the church acoustics, making them even more encapsulating. Feste’s accomplices Sir Toby Belch, played by Jack Christie, and Sir Andrew Aguecheek, Thomas Winsor, are possibly my favourite part of Twelfth Night (with the inclusion of Malvolio’s storyline, of course!) The trio play with character and entertain us with their madness and ideas but, although comedic, there are no hysterics over what are some wonderfully written parts. We see glimpses of simmering talent in Martin Priest’s performance of Malvolio, but I feel we lack our dislike for Malvolio, which usually provides an incentive for the audience to be pulled along with Sir Toby and Sir Andrew’s tricks. Without this we feel nothing for Malvolio as a character – not a desire to laugh nor a feeling to sympathise.
Without a doubt, the stand-outs of the cast come from the two leading ladies Viola and Olivia, played by Harriet Hare and Emma Hall. These two women bring life to the script and present each part in a way I’ve never seen them done before. Everything about them brings up the whole production and you are unable to take your eyes off their extraordinary craft. Their scenes together are truly rare to experience in theatre.
The title Twelfth Night comes from the last day in the religious celebrations of the birth of Jesus in Christian culture – the Feast of Epiphany. With this in mind, the location of a church does not seem uncalled for and is an intriguing take on the play. However, the staging area for this production seems clunky. Unnecessary spaces are used and the staging is only just coherent in the more complicated parts of the script. That being said, we are amazed by the space and very excited to be experiencing something that we’ve probably all just walked straight past time and time again.
In true Shakespearean style we close with a song and a dance, a cheerful ending to a delightful production. It has its faults but other elements make up for it. The ideas are there – it just needs some polishing. A good evening out if you are in need of some more Shakespeare in the 400th anniversary year, but this Twelfth Night wouldn’t be my top pick!
Twelfth Night, or What You Will is playing at the French Protestant Church until 9 April. For more information and tickets, see the Scena Mundi website. Photo: Jessy Boon Cowler