The grounds of London's largest outdoor theatre, hidden in the depths of Regent’s Park, is the ideal setting for a traditional Shakespeare production—twinkling lights, the terracotta stage emerging from the surrounding woodland like the weathered remains of a romantic castle wall. Sadly, on this occasion, no such traditional production would adorn this idyllic setting. Instead, a very definite 1920s theme is imposed upon the text.
I choose the word "imposed" very deliberately. I’m not against a fresh interpretation of Shakespeare through a change in setting, era, etc., but it needs to complement the original text. Whilst the potential for adaptation of Twelfth Night into a 1920s setting is evident in the success of this performance, I can’t help but feel that this isn’t a production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night set in the 1920s, but a Shakespeare play that really wants to be a vintage Hollywood film. The scenes provoking the most laughter from the audience are those with extra material, relevant to the time period and not the play. Scenes such as the alcohol-fuelled sing-a-long between Sir Andrew, Sir Toby, Feste and Maria offer ample comedic potential in the text, and yet it feels as though this material is being bypassed to make way for the inclusion of other brainstorms more befitting the concept of the production. Perhaps I’m turning into one of those purists. The theme is consistently and innovatively applied, creating an entertaining performance. It is well performed and dramatically executed—but it feels like a production which is a little embarrassed that it’s Shakespeare.
Unfortunately this slight misfit continues in the portrayal of Feste. Clive Rowe gives an electric performance that steals the limelight from others every moment he’s on stage. His singing is captivating and his boisterous, farcical, physical approach to comedy has the audience in stitches. His noteworthy performance fits well, and is the lynch pin in the production’s theme and setting. Yet this boisterous character is not the Feste I know and love. Rather than intelligent, mysterious and melancholic, we are faced with a brash and—literally—foolish jester.
The casting of Sir Toby and Sir Andrew, too, are sadly unexpected, although Tim Woodward as Sir Toby works hard to portray the lovable rogue with reasonable success. Malvolio (Richard O'Callaghan) is reassuringly as he should be— perfectly obtuse and distasteful, obnoxious and delightfully arrogant. Similarly, the casting of the twins (Natalie Dew as Viola and Neet Mohan as Sebastian) is a particular success, both in terms of their similarity and the commanding performances they both offer.
The "patience like a monument" scene between Viola (Natalie Dew) and Orsino (Oscar Pearce) is a particular highpoint, performed with the appropriate level of intensity and passion that this scene demands, including the fervent and unexpected ripping off of Orsino’s shirt.
Sound and lighting effects are a triumph, creating a dramatic and exciting atmosphere, and contributing greatly to the production’s overall cinematic feel. Edward Dick’s direction and editing of scenes also works well in achieving this goal. In the end, this is an entertaining production with several commendable performances and impressive sound and lighting techniques. If only it didn't so desperately wish it was a 1920s film rather than a Shakespeare play.