It is a crowded auditorium buzzing with noise and expectation. The small space is intimate, however, the seats aren’t in any way tiered and so my view is heavily blocked by a rather tall man in front of me.
The back wall is covered with hexagons forming a honeycomb pattern and surrounded by fluorescent tape in pinks, oranges, and greens.
On come our ravers dancing to a classic piece of club trash, a drunken Orsino says the famous line ‘if music be the food of love, play on’; in a real club the odds of this being heard are slim to none and I do not believe that a rave filled with dancers high on MDMA (probably) is the setting for the romance that Orsino so desires as indicated in this quotation.
The description for the play asks ‘how do its themes of gender and sexuality square with our modern world?’ and somehow, despite this focus, the director and all but two of the performers seem to have little to no understanding of the language of Shakespeare and his plethora of sexual innuendo.
Didn’t someone once say that if in doubt in Shakespeare it’s a dick joke? Maria says to Sir Andrew Aguecheek ‘I pray you, bring your hand to the buttery bar and let it drink’ – a line agreed by most scholars to be a reference to the touching of Maria’s breasts but here it could mean anything. This early attempt at comedy is lost to the winds of attempting Shakespeare despite not understanding a word of it.
Shakespeare’s use of iambic pentameter is important as the intonation mimics the rhythm of natural speech. Yet here Sneaky Rhombus Collective stress the words and sentences in such a way that they destroy the bard’s words and meaning. I don’t think Shakespeare would just turn in his grave, I think he would kill himself in response to the butchering of his poetry.
The transitions between scenes were painfully slow, feeling each time as if the next actor did not know if they were coming on. Frequently one actor would interrupt the other, this happens in natural speech and happens in plays but what you’re meant to do is carry on and pretend that this was deliberate, as in real life.
Sneaky Rhombus Collective fail in improvisation and instead stop, pause, and then let the other actor say their line, thus completely breaking any semblance of authenticity in the characters. This happens at least three times at different points.
This lack of professionalism is shown off-stage too with a person at the tech desk deciding ten minutes into the show is the right time to pull the Sellotape dispenser next to them, noisily rip the tape, and stick it to the wall.
Honestly, you can’t write this stuff.
In an interpretation focusing on sexuality I am disappointed in the gender-swapping in the casting of Sebastian. Antonio is a brilliant, and quite obviously queer character, and this radical choice by Shakespeare is ruined when, in this production, Antonio fancies a girl wearing a badly drawn on moustache. This moustache works to some degree on Viola as Cesario because it shows the flaw in her disguise, but with Sebastian it just looks incredibly tacky.
Now for some positives; there are two things they get right. Malvolio has fantastic physicality and facial expressions and Feste, the multitalented fool, is shown in all her sensuality, talent and ridiculousness.
This show has a setting that doesn’t work, incredibly poor performances, and overall is a genuinely confusing production choice given that no one in the cast or the production team seems to understand the meaning behind any single interaction in the play.
This could have been an interesting concept, but alas, a lack of understanding leads to a confused and altogether unprofessional production.
Twelfth Night is playing at Greenwich Theatre Studio until 25 January. For more information and tickets visit their website.