I was in awe as I walked into the Roundhouse in Camden. Having attended shows in Stratford-Upon-Avon previously, I felt immediately as if I was in that beautiful provincial town viewing a play by the Royal Shakespeare Company. I was indeed attending RSC’s production of Twelfth Night, but not in Shakespeare’s old neighborhood. Instead, the RSC had fit the versatile Roundhouse with a replica of one of their theatres.
Twelfth Night has been programmed into The RSC’s Shipwreck Trilogy, which also features productions of The Tempest and The Comedy of Errors. Directed by David Farr this production lives up to the standard of the renowned RSC.
Farr has a true genius for staging and creating amazing stage pictures. As the play opens up on men languidly laying about a dingy hotel lobby a great surprise is had. From the water appears Viola, rescued from the treacherous waters of Illyria. It is in these moments I am reminded of the ingenuity of theatrical artists and the magic of the stage.
The cast featured some of the strongest Shakespearean actors I have witnessed to date. In her debut with the RSC, Emily Taaffe took on the role of Viola disguised as Cesario in order to serve in Duke Orsino’s court. Cesario learns that the Duke has been pining after Olivia, who, in mourning for her brother’s death, dismisses the Duke’s advances. Cesario vows to aid the Duke in his pursuits and this is where the crux of the play’s comedy comes from. Taaffe handles the gender-breaking role with such pithy for an actress so young. Kirsty Bushell, whose controlled acting is top notch, brings the role of Olivia to life. Watching her fall in love with Viola as Cesario is a comedic treat. Bushell explores the highs and lows of romantic anguish as she suffers with unrequited love, making Viola an endearing heroine. Other mentionable performances include Cecilia Noble’s Maria, who had such a commanding presence and handled the manipulating maid with experience and care. But this production truly rested upon the ingenuity and skill of Jonathan Slinger’s Malvolio. Slinger offered up an incredibly subtle puritanical knob. Everyone knows this sort of guy and through Slinger’s genius Malvolio is both as loveable as he is tedious to deal with.
Technically, this was such a stunning experience. Adem Ilhan created musical underscores and interludes throughout the play. Actors Nicholas Day, Felix Hayes, and Kevin McMonagle handled the songs with such care and bravado, creating a beautiful drunken trio whilst McMonagle’s guitar skills added a flare like no other. Jon Bausor’s design was like a Pandora’s box of secrets. Throughout the play bits of set came to life and caught the audience off guard in a fantastical way.
This production brought to life one of Shakespeare’s best-known comedies in an innovative and moving way, handled with great direction and care from the cast and production team at the RSC.
Twelfth Night is playing at the Roundhouse as part of the World Shakespeare Festival until 5 July. For more information and tickets, see the Roundhouse website.