Review: Twelfth Night, Blue Elephant Theatre

Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night is all over the place this year. The glorious production starring Tamsin Greig at the National Theatre closes in mid-May, only days before Emma Rice’s interpretation opens at Shakespeare’s Globe, the last new production Rice will direct herself as Artistic Director. There’s another Twelfth Night, though, hiding in the 50-seat Blue Elephant Theatre in Camberwell, and while this production, produced by Original Impact, may not be ready for the big time, there are more than a few bright spots to find in this latest London iteration of one of Shakespeare’s most joyous plays.

Viola (Katie Turner) arrives via shipwreck in Illyria, and director Sam Dunstan has staged a marvelously energetic hurricane-themed line dance to illustrate this moment. In disguise as the male Cesario, Viola quickly gets a job serving the Duke Orsino (Andi Jashari, a skillful beat-boxer as it turns out) where she is assigned the task of courting Orsino’s beloved Olivia (Eve Niker) on his behalf. Niker stands out from the rest of the young cast in her maturity and dexterity with the text and her wide-eyed, frantic version of the lady-in-mourning sexually awoken by the cross-dressed Viola. There’s an unusual wistful sincerity as she unveils herself, revealing her face to Cesario for the first time.

The company members, on the whole, don’t get the text across to the audience with sufficient clarity, or sufficient pace, to earn the laughs they’re aiming for. When Twelfth Night isn’t riotously funny, it becomes clear how mean-spirited many of the characters are: Sir Toby (Joshua Jewkes) and Maria (Alexandria Anfield) seem particularly nasty in their gulling of Malvolio (Timothy Weston), especially when Sir Toby takes a smartphone video of that unsuspecting cross-gartered steward weeping in prison. Dunstan has somewhat re-framed the play as a modern-day performance given within The Elephant (the fatefully named pub in Illyria). As such, the cast members frequently provide sung and instrumental accompaniment. Niker’s vocals seem particularly strong there, too, and it’s a shame the music largely disappears after the interval.

Hefty cuts and a small cast necessarily lead to a muddling of the plotline involving Viola’s identical twin Sebastian (James Morley), but Sian Eleanor Green’s Antonio speaks with an emotional honesty that the rest of the cast lacks (she also provides the play’s most spirited moments as Feste). Morley seems particularly confident with the verse (he also plays a mean trombone). Meanwhile, Dinos Psychogios makes a delightfully silly Sir Andrew Aguecheek, good-naturedly admitting that he is known to be a fool.

Top-notch Shakespeare it’s not, but some future talents are strutting their stuff in Camberwell.

Twelfth Night is playing at the Blue Elephant Theatre until May 6.