One of Shakespeare’s greatest romantic comedy masterpieces forms the basis of this gender experiment. A company of extremely talented actors rotate four vibrant 90 minute versions of the play including an all-female cast, an all-male cast, and cast play opposite gender. For a play which is already full of cross-dressing and mistaken identity, the production I saw became extremely difficult to follow, but all the more comedic.
Twelfth Night is the story of Viola, who is shipwrecked and separated from her twin brother. She adopts a male guise as Cesario and takes a position in Count Orsino’s Court. Her boss is unaware of Cesario’s true gender and sends him to woo a fine lady called Olivia on his behalf, but Olivia falls in love with the boy, equally unaware of his true gender. Meanwhile, Viola/Cesario has fallen in love with Orsino. That’s only the start and I am already beginning to confuse myself. Trying to follow this tale of mistaken identity is made even more complicated by the small cast playing several characters, and a boy who is playing a girl who takes on the guise of a boy.
Despite the confusion, the overall performance came across as a hilarious evening of entertainment, and definitely one to watch if you are a fan of Shakespeare, looking to see his work portrayed in a slightly different way. Although a lot of literary geniuses may disagree with me, this is how Twelfth Night should exactly be performed. The great writer himself pushed the boundaries when writing this play in 1601, and Natasha Rickman is carrying on his tradition by bending the play, and performing it as not intended.
The often silly overacting especially during the drunken scenes played to the ridiculous script, and wasn’t performed in a manner which would alienate those who are new to theatre or to Shakespeare. This 90 minute show is also great for the whole family. As a child, I recall travelling up to Stratford Upon Avon every weekend, and being dragged to multiple Shakespeare plays including Twelfth Night and being bored out of my mind. Oh, how I wish there was a production like this to make me realise the genius of his plays from a younger age.
The Rose Playhouse is a perfect setting for these types of shows, but as it is an archaeological site by being the first Tudor theatre build on Bankside, I would strongly recommend you wrap up warm during these cold Autumn months.
Rickman’s production of Twelfth Night is a fantastic experiment and example of reinventing theatre to appeal to more people whilst still retaining the artistic integrity of Shakespeare’s work.
Twelfth Night is playing at the Rose Playhouse 30 October. For more information and tickets, see the Rose Theatre website. Photo by Lidia Crisafulli.