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Twelfth Night

Birmingham Rep


SHAKESPEARE plays, as we all know, have to be accessible. More than that in fact.

They also have to be commercial. They have to be relevant and they have to engage if they want to continue to appeal to a modern audience with so many other options.

Gone are the days (sadly, some might say) of lavish, traditional offerings that stuck rigidly to a style that anyone over 40 will have been subjected to at school.

Whilst interpretations have always gone on, the perception most of us have of a Shakespeare play is a somewhat stuffy experience that we feel we should enjoy more than we actually do. Worthy and self-important, yes. Entertaining and inclusive, no.

Filter Theatre’s take on Twelfth Night rips apart tradition and delivers an experience you won't expect, or forget. Part gig, part play, part pantomime it breathes an altogethetwelfth nightr new life into a rather sweet and funny play.

Theatrical convention, for a start, is straight out the window. No set. No interval. No fourth wall. One lighting state throughout. Random costuming. It's a million miles from the staged majesty of Olivier or even Branagh but that, of course, is the point. It's fun, brash and hugely inventive. Crucially, it's approachable and strives to involve the audience rather than separate it.

Bold and energetic as it is, it doesn't always work. At times the joy and power of the text is diluted by over long physical gags or sung through speeches. It's a cracking story with some beautifully drawn characters but too often the flow is lost by extended distractions. Clarity and diction suffer too when vocal effects are put through distorted microphones. Making bold staging choices is all part of directorial choice, but the words and our ability to hear them can't be compromised.

The absence of a set puts all the more focus on the actors. If performances falter, there is always the set to admire. A few tables and an assortment of cables and microphones make for a somewhat stark setting on the expansive Rep. stage but performances compensate impressively. Energy fizzes throughout and all accompanied by a range of sound effects and music performed in character by onstage musicians.

Without doubt, the purists will be challenged by this production. It's most probably not what you are expecting but for that reason alone, it's worth taking a chance. Hats off to a company who are challenging an age old perception and doing it their own way. It may surprise and it may even shock but one thing is certain – it will make you talk about it. And that can never be a bad thing.

Directed by Sean Holmes, the production runs until April 16.

Tom Roberts



And from another viewpoint


SHAKESPEARE’S works are timeless. His plays have been performed in countless ways in every country of the world.

It is easy to be indifferent to Shakespeare, with Elizabethan language being a barrier along with stories with many characters.

Today, companies are striving to make his plays accessible to new audiences and unearth the essence to his celebrated words.

Filter Theatre are and exciting company and with their production of Twelfth Night, it is easy to forget that we are watching a Shakespeare production at all.

Firstly, they perform in the main house of the rep with no set at all. We see no backdrop and no images allude to the lavish world of Illyria. Instead, the audience see a stage full of musical instruments and wires as their set. The stage looks like a rehearsal room for a band rather than a setting for Shakespearean production.

The actors are dressed in the most casual clothing. We are first greeted by actor Harry Jardine with an even more casual conversation. He never let on what we were about to expect in this production and he revelled in the audience’s slight confusion about the unlikely setting.

Filter are not afraid to play with Shakespeare’s script. They merely use Twelfth Night as a springboard to create their own style of theatre. The play literally turns into a Shakespearean rock concert and they make music the integral part of the production. When Hatwlfthnight2rry Jardine as Orsino utters the first line of the play ‘If music be the food of love’, he allows the audience to finish the remainder and repeats it several times, as a type of chant to start the riveting band.

The play oozes new concepts filled with joy and delight. Sometimes it was easy to forget that this actually in fact is a production of Twelfth Night.

It is cut to a 95-minute production and multi-rolling is a central theme. Amy Marchant gave the perfect performance of love struck Viola, when through the chaos and commotion of the background; she always remained captivating in her delivery of the role.

Marchant also played Viola’s twin Sebastian which made for a comical denouement. The drunken Toby Belch is the only character dressed in Shakespearean costume. Even Toby can’t believe this is a production of Twelfth Night and recites lines from other Shakespeare plays at random.

Filter want us the audience to enjoy their on stage experience just as much as they do. They invite the audience to an on stage party to aid Toby Belch’s mischief. Tequila shots are handed out and a conga line compiled of audience members is used to create the raucous atmosphere. Smiles and laughter are seen throughout the entire auditorium and the company succeed in making a Shakespearean party, complete with games, singing and dancing.

Filter make sure that no detail is under-played or unnoticed. They are a meticulous company and to an audience, their work seems effortless on stage.

They are committed to the ultimate goal of entertaining and enjoying Shakespeare. They use music in every scene and every member of the cast has an instrument to play.

It highlights each scene to create a new and clever understanding of the story. The on stage direction of Sean Holmes is certainly inspiring. The cast also make sure that the importance of character performance is kept integral to the production, with excellent performances by all. Oliver Dimsdale, who played Malvolio, arguably gave the most comical performances within his role, but also the most touching. It was a hilarious show, but the company never forget to add colour by reminding the audience of the dark journeys of each character. Dimsdale is fantastic at showing Malvolio’s fall and adds the well needed emotional change to the light hearted production.

It is wonderful to see complete joy in their work as a company. Their love of playing with Shakespeare’s word is contagious and makes the audience follow suit. Filter invites us to a Shakespearean party but always stays true to presenting the script in an understandable way. It is modern Shakespeare at its finest.

Elizabeth Halpin



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