Review: Twelfth Night

BEN BLYTH thinks ‘We don’t have to look far to find the seeds of a more hopeful theatrical future’.

Cambridge Arts Theatre martin hudson Shakespeare Twelfth Night

Tuesday 16th – Saturday 20th, 7.45 with matinees on Thursday and Saturday.

Directed by Martin Hutson. 

Box-offices dictate that theatre has to evolve in order to survive, and in an age where our heroes are kept well out of reach the attraction of something 'live' and 'real' can really hold sway over the artificial and conceived (“Gandalf, mummy, I want to see Gandalf”). The ramification for theatre (according to both the RSC and Martin Hutson), is that it needs to assimilate the 21st century televisual culture in order to survive. Hudson's 'Twelfth Night' suffered from this conceit, here we had a consummately acted imagining of Shakespeare's famed comedy that forgot it was, in fact, a play.

As the curtain rose I was presented with an immensely detailed set that looked marvellous, but did absolutely nothing to engage with either the text, or the immense possibilities presented by the stage. This is a problem encountered by numerous RSC productions which are eventually committed to celluloid. When they enter the auditorium, the audience are willing to believe you are taking them absolutely anywhere. Present us with a puppet and before long no-one is looking at the puppeteer. The set served only to restrict the drama to Aristotle’s unities (something Shakespeare deliberately avoided in all of his plays bar the Tempest) and cut the wonderful Arts Theatre stage in half. Instead of a stage-set we were given a flat TV screen of continuous action.

Photos: Tim Johns –

Directorial pandering to this notion of the 21st century theatre served to cripple the production. The ridiculous dumb-show that greeted us immediately post-interval served merely to fast-forward events from the paused DVD. There were moments when the talented cast managed to genuinely connect with the audience only for the spell of the theatre to be broken by infuriatingly incongruous music to be played over the PA, the kind one would expect from a climactic moment in the OC. We know Viola’s ring speech is important, please don’t labour it with frankly patronising emphasis. Believe me, it’s the words we all want to hear. Furthermore, the decision to restart the play at the end didn't disarm me in the slightest, only served to completely sever any connection that remained between the audience and the actors. Hudson's Twelfth Night is a CD on loop. There is no spontaneity. No joy in the live audience. It's as if we weren't even there. ??


We don’t have to look far to find the seeds of a more hopeful theatrical future however – the cast were truly exceptional, and to give credit where it’s due, Hudson’s character direction was intelligent and well executed. Too often have directors allowed their actors open license with the comedic elements of this play, and here Oliver Soden's gently acerbic, Mandelson-esque Malvolio and Mark Fiddaman's gothic Feste delightfully engineered the sting in Twelfth Night's tail. The stand out performance however, has to come from Patrick Walshe-McBride as Sir Andrew Aguecheek. I have seen countless Twelfth Night's and this is the first time I have ever truly appreciated the character for what he is – the Eric Morecambe to Toby Belch's Ernie Wise. He was absolutely excellent, and to the credit of the entire cast the best of an exceptional bunch. Mention also has to go to Simon Thomas – the lighting was spot-on. His control of the division between internal and the external gently reminded us that there was more at work than the confines of a moment on the telebox. The standard lamp, in particular, was a wonderful touch.

The four-stars then reflect a breadth of talent and control in character direction rarely seen in student theatre. To not embrace the beauty of live theatre, however, meant I came away feeling I had seen something about as substantial as watching Avatar in 3D.