Paul Johnson | 29 Apr 2019 22:12pm
Photo: Lou Morris Photography
The Bard is back on Bankside for this 465th birthday. At the third Globe, the Henriad, and round the corner at the original Rose, Twelfth Night: OVO from St Alban’s on their first residency south of the river.
They bring a big company to this tiny stage, fourteen actor/musicians, including the often overlooked Fabian [Andy Margerison], and Elena Ollett providing tap-dancing feet for some of the musical numbers.
The “post-modern jukebox” is central to Adam Nichols’ version of What You Will. So we hear, not Tudor tunes, or hits of the Roaring Twenties [when this production is set], but ingenious, and hugely enjoyable, arrangements of hits from Rihanna to Radiohead. The Musical Director is Tom Cagnoni, whose piano doubles as a cocktail bar. As well as that versatile white upright, we hear the accordeon, the sax, the trumpet, not to mention the string bass [for Jaws] and the trombone [for the ship’s foghorn].
For we are sailing the Atlantic aboard the luxury liner SS Illyria, which has rescued some survivors of the ill-fated Elysium. This decadent decade also prompts two major gender swaps: Olivia’s steward is Malvolia, her cousin Lady Toby. [Presumably the otherwise preferable Dame Toby was rejected as too redolent of panto.] Viola and Sebastian are vaudeville artistes, The Dancing Twins, their opening number Rihanna’s Umbrella.
So how does Shakespeare fare in all of this? Considerably trimmed, of course, 95 minutes including a generous fourteen songs, sometimes snatches, sometimes sizable production numbers. And even allowing for irony, their relevance is not always clear. When the verse is allowed to speak, it is well done, notably by Lucy Crick’s Viola. Her “hard knot” soliloquy slips easily into Britney’s Oops I Did It Again. (Ms Spears also provides the “food of love”.) Will Forester gives a wonderfully sybaritic, almost creepy, Orsino, the Captain of the ship, clearly smitten by the cross-dressed Cesario. Anna Franklin makes a splendid cakes-and-ale Belch [“a washed-up music hall star”, the programme informs us.] James Douglas, in country tweeds, is a comically clueless Sir Andrew. I’ve often thought he needs an exit line, and here he pinches “I’ll be revenged on the whole pack of you” from Malvolia, who is compensated with Radiohead’s Creep, the final number, where she’s joined at the piano by Viola.
The steward’s gender change is perhaps “an improbable fiction” too far. Faith Turner plays her as Miss Prism – specs and hair in a bun – which is fine until her infatuation with her mistress [Emma Watson’s full-on Olivia] turns to strip-tease and dreams of marriage …
Jane Withers makes a pert minx of a Maria, the very smartly attired stylist to Olivia, and Hannah Francis-Baker is a fabulous Feste: Fool, “Master of Ceremonies”, multi-instrumentalist and one of the best singers on the ship.
She’s not alone, though, in turning on the cross-gartered madwoman Malvolia. The cruel laughter spreads to almost the whole company, leaving a bitter after-taste to this delicious cocktail of hedonism, popular song and Shakespearean comedy.
Photo: Lou Morris Photography
- : admin
- : 23/04/2019