What an exciting prospect this play looked at first glance. Twelth Night, Shakespeare’s comedy classic, performed solely by a team of London’s most exciting comedians. Oh dear, what a terrific let down.
To put to bed any queries as to what this play is, it is a group of comedians making a frankly feeble attempt at performing Shakespeare. They were no changes to the play; it was performed in the original blank verse. There was a little modernising of costumes and props and some cuts were made to make it shorter, but that is all. The problem is that these were not actors…they were comedians. I, and many others I’m sure, made the understandable presumption that this would be a raucously hilarious piece of theatre. I was excited to see how the play might be altered, re-imagined, transformed even to bring out the elements that only professional comedians could bring. Instead, it was comedians, who aren’t actors, attempting to tackle the blank verse in a legitimate fashion, and consequently it ended up being a predictable and generic version of the play and a badly done version at that.
I don’t blame the director, nor actually the comedians; it is a clever concept…it just did not work…at all. The first half was painful, with little laughter; in fact the woman in front of me was asleep. After about thirty minutes, it picked up marginally only after Liam Williams’s attempt to make something, anything happen…by falling over. Frankly it was a little bit desperate, and got worse when he proceeded to shove an entire cake into his mouth making a mess; we laughed because it was stupid and by that point we were laughing sporadically out of total incredulity that this was actually happening.
I feel I must, however, give a paragraph of total appreciation and acknowledgement to Alex Owen and Alex Mackeith who were genuinely superb as Antonio and Sebastian, and both, honestly, gave performances worthy of The Globe. They brought something completely original and utterly unexpected to their roles and the hilarious twists and unusual character choices were little short of genius. Unfortunately for us, they appeared on stage less than any other cast members and made their entrances far too late to change the course. But the pair were superb. My only wish is that the entire play had been ‘The Tales of Sebastian and Antonio’; in fact I would book it now if I could.
I have an idea, though only my opinion of course, as to why this show was such a train wreck. Few comedians are funny because of their facial expressions or mannerisms. Not everyone can be Rowan Atkinson. The majority of comedians rely on their own material. That is where their creativity, cleverness and hilarity lies. Take that away from them and well….they’re not necessarily funny anymore. This is a highly amusing play, often hailed as Shakespeare’s greatest comedy so we laughed as some moments because Shakespeare’s words are very amusing but it was inconsequential that a comedian had delivered the line. Furthermore, some of the best ‘gags’, for want of a better word, were missed and fell flat.
This was a dull and unimaginative production but as ever it must come down to ‘but was it enjoyable’. No, not at all. It was exceedingly lacklustre. A real let down.
Twelfth Night with a Cast of Comedians was a one off event as part of the London Udderbelly festival at London Wonderland