Twelfth Night at the Rose Playhouse is a classic example of what you can achieve with a small budget, good direction and some talented actors. In this bare-bones production of one of Shakespeare’s greats, director Natasha Rickman just about overcomes the lack of set and actors doubling-up parts to create an evening that will leave you feeling satisfied, but not blown away.
The cast consists of a sextet of capable individuals: Maia Alexander as Viola, Bethan Cullinane as Olivia, Clare Humphrey as Maria and the Officer, Thomas Richardson as Orsino, Feste and Sir Andrew, Thomas Flynn as Sir Toby, Sebastian and Valentine, and Fred Gray as Malvolio, Antonio and the Captain. As you can see, the gents in particular are playing so many roles that I wondered if they’d leave the stage with a minor case of multi-personality disorder. I mostly followed which character was on stage at any given time, though solely for this reason I’m not sure this production would be the best bet for those who are Twelfth Night virgins.
Despite this, Rickman does use this lack of cast members to the production’s advantage at times: an actor running halfway across the stage to arrive in a new scene out of breath, as his character should be; a priest played by a remarkably well-dressed finger puppet; and Richardson’s character being denoted by a hat that was on and off his head mid-scene. All are neatly used devices that save the performance, and are well thought-out.
The thespians clearly know what they are about when it comes to the script: I didn’t notice any botched metre and the delivery is very competent. Good Shakespeare can be hard to find, and they and the director should be commended for their delivery. Richardson and Flynn elicited my only two minor complaints of the evening acting-wise, and they are minor – Flynn for his slightly overenthusiastic ‘drunk acting’, which occasionally mars an otherwise proficient performance, and Richardson for his attempt at a Welsh accent that would have had my Llanelli-born father wincing at times.
I’d also highly recommend the theatre itself; if you haven’t been, the Rose Playhouse is the first Tudor theatre built on Bankside, and it’s a part-excavation site part-industrial warehouse that has bags of character. They really need to put a door in the entry room though, as being greeted to the sounds of the actors warming up and chatting out of character on stage when the house hadn’t yet opened comes across as a touch unprofessional.
This production of Twelfth Night is billed as a “gender experiment” on the programme, with the idea being the gender of the actors playing the characters will change in quartet: all female, all male, gender as written, opposite genders. I’d be interested to see the results of this, and how it would change the dynamic each night. If the evening I attended was any indication, the production deserves a solid run for a job mostly well done
Twelfth Night is playing at the Rose Playhouse until 30 October. For more information and tickets, see the Rose Playhouse website. Photo: Lidia Crisafulli.