Review: Twelfth Night, Southwark Playhouse

A hyperactively charged show that takes Shakespeare into a contemporary setting, this show is a quirky adaptation of Twelfth Night that finds the fun in this classic show.

A necessity to Shakespeare’s ludicrous plots is either to make it as natural as possible, or to make it utterly absurd. This production chose the latter, which means you’re in for a night of silly madness. It’s not to be compared to the productions at The Globe as it shines a different fringe-like atmosphere onto the show.

You begin by walking into an intimate theatre with a festival vibe that gives the sense that we have been transported to Illyria. Set in the round, this leaves no gap between the actors and watchers. There is definitely no fourth wall in this show and you will be invited to high five, chant, sing and even become characters with the performers on stage. This is a risky game to play, as our audience experiences both ends of the spectrum from enthusiasm to disinterest, which either gets you cackling with laughter, or feeling plain awkward, both of which I felt in this evening’s show.

You are then introduced to all the characters and the many roles they will be playing. This is crucial to understand as most actors play two or three parts and are distinguishable by a change of hat or jacket. Becky Barry even plays the already doubled role of Viola and Cesario, and then to add confusion, she portrays her own twin brother Sebastian, but once this is understood, it all runs smoothly. A lot of the roles are gender swapped, tailoring the once Orsino into Orsinia, Antonio to Antonia and Valentine into Valentina. I delighted in this reverse of the historic ‘men only’ idea and it works perfectly within the plot.

The modernisation of Shakespeare feels somewhat predictable, turning the classic iambic pentameter into rap at times and adopting a hip-hop vibe throughout. However, they do well to deliver a convoluted plot clearly that appeals to my modern ear. I felt highly entertained throughout the show, and isn’t that why we go to the theatre in the first place? I especially delighted in their original interpretations of fight scenes. This includes a music battle, miming being caught by a lasso and a brilliant rendition of the childhood game ‘got your nose’. Completely in keeping with the bizarre evening you are in for.

The whole cast perform with faultless gusto and electric energy. Aruhan Galieva’s beautiful vocals are showcased and her poppy, effortless sound, captivated me. Sapphire Joy, Caroline Parker, Liv Spencer, Luke Wilson and Barry have admirable conviction and commitment throughout the whole evening. Overall it is a wholehearted performance from all the cast and a nonsensical night at the theatre. A great way to see your first Shakespeare to make sense of the tricky language and a very good laugh.

Twelfth Night is playing The Southwark Playhouse until 9 February 2019. For more information and tickets, see the Southwark Playhouse website.