Swivel’s Twelfth Night at the Cockpit theatre, directed by Diyan Zora, who is also the co-founder of the company, is a comfortable and confident second production (read about Swivel's first production here). In her interpretation, Zora imagines an Illyria (modeled on 1920s Tangier) as a land in which anything is possible.
Twelfth Night is staged in one of the most appropriate venues, given the atmosphere it aims create. The Cockpit Theatre is located just off Church Street, a famous market road rife with Moroccan and other Arab cuisine and garments, lending authenticity to the piece. Moroccan music, provided by Khalid Salik and Mohammed Abdi, greets the audience upon entering the theatre. Ornately decorated cloths litter the stairs at the back of the stage underneath a projection of images, depicting life in 1920s Tangier. A delicate cloth is draped in an arc from wall to ceiling, interrupted in the center by a cascading Arabian lamp. A dreary orange haze, created by lighting designer Amaya Molis, helps to emphasize our transportation into a far away land, creating a sense of both warmth and weariness: relaxing yet engaging.
Swivel, as stated in their mission statement, has made a conscious effort to mix the traditional with the modern by balancing “creative license with traditional interpretation”. The idea of setting Twelfth Night in 1920s Tangier, a place so mixed up that anything could happen, is a masterstroke. This setting adds new aspects to the characters and re-invents their struggles, yet does not lose any of the integrity present in the original script. It really is a breath of fresh air.
While the space at Cockpit may be limited, Swivel produces a delightfully ambitious piece of theatre. If anything, the simplicity of the set, designed by Pilar Sierra, allows the actors to show off their skills. The use of Moroccan cloths clearly demonstrates where the piece is set without being ostentatious. The costumes, designed by Catherine Arnold, depict a totally mixed society in terms of both people and culture.
The piece opens with Orsino in a bright red, traditional Bedouin tunic. His status as a Moroccan nobleman is clearly defined through his clothing, yet, it seems that nerves get the better of Aqil Zahid’s performance at this point. He appears uncomfortable on stage, and does not exude the sort of arrogant sense of entitlement expected from a nobleman in his situation. He is particularly juxtaposed against his loud clothing.
Nerves appear to overcome the majority of the cast as the play opens. Far too many lines of dialogue appear to be rushed by the actors. This results in many of the great lines being lost in a flurry of speech. Had the actors slowed down when delivering some of their lines, many of the words would have had time to resonate. This was one of very few blemishes on the direction from Diyan Zora, which was otherwise impressive and engaging.
After a rocky start, the play suddenly explodes into a plethora of activity and comedic intrigue. The acting throughout is solid and the actors play their parts well and with the necessary authority required; Orsino becomes a much more authoritative figure as the play progresses and his status as nobleman becomes more defined. A particularly wonderful moment in the play is when Feste, Toby and Sir Andrew (played by Leo-Marcus Wan, Tony Wadham and Matthew Gibbs respectively) stumble in drunk before quarrelling with Malvolio (played by Tibu Fortes) for their noisy entrance. The actors have such wonderful chemistry together that it makes the scene thrilling to sit through, not too mention packed with laughs. In Wan, Swivel have found an actor whose impish and energetic qualities shine through; his singing in particular is particularly enthralling and his inquisitiveness is endearing. He manages to make the audience sympathise and laugh at his character simultaneously.
All in all, Twelfth Night is a terrific effort from the young Swivel Theatre company. After a shaky start, the acting grows solid. The direction is sound, the music fitting and the atmosphere welcoming. Expect some intriguing and entertaining theatre in the future.