REVIEW: Twelfth Night, or What You Will

Dani Cugini is enchanted by this lively, quirky production of Shakespeare’s most festive comedy

There is nothing worse than a bad Shakespeare production. It’s like watching a really nice house burn down.

Luckily, this one’s done the bard justice. These are the last performances after a successful European tour and the cast shines. The Cambridge European Theatre Group’s adaptation of Twelfth Night is as merry as a mug of mulled wine, featuring singing, dancing, romance, deception, mistaken identity, and a rather lurid pair of yellow stockings. The romance is arresting, the deception intricate, and the stockings…nylon, I would suppose. You’ll have to see.

Photo Credit – Johannes Hjorth

Twelfth Night tells the story of Viola and Sebastian, twins who each presumes the other dead. Viola disguises herself as a man to enter the service of Duke Orsino and gains the interest of Olivia, the woman Orsino loves. Apparently nobody in Illyria has ever seen a wig before. Additionally, the comic trio of Feste, Sir Toby and Sir Andrew add to the confusion, skipping around the court and causing intermittent havoc.

The cast is uniformly great, and there are some particular standouts. Viola (Aoife Kennan) gives a lovely, wry, subtle performance, eliciting laughter from a glance downwards or a quirked eyebrow; her scenes with Olivia (Julia Kass) are particularly funny by contrast, since Kass’ Olivia is a bratty, melodramatic whirlwind – half-society lady and half-Regina from Mean Girls (occasionally she even slips into a valley girl accent, to great effect).

Aoife Kennan gives a standout performance. Photo Credit – Johannes Hjorth

Ben Walsh‘s Malvolio is genuinely brilliant, impassively comical, and the perpetrator of the funniest scene in the play (I won’t spoil it for you), and while all three members of the comic trio will make you seize up laughing, the wine-soaked Sir Toby (Zak Ghazi-Torbati) is a fantastic, lecherous, jovial, larger-than-life comic presence who fills the stage the second he enters it.

There are also some nice touches of direction: for instance, the awkwardness of set changes is avoided by having characters dance about while moving furniture in character. Twelfth Night has a professional touch not often found in student theatre, even in ADC main shows.

Zak Ghazi-Torbati as the ‘wine-soaked Sir Toby’. Photo Credit – Johannes Hjorth

Any issues with the play are minor by comparison. Rosanna Suppa’s Fool perhaps lacks a little of the complexity and wisdom of Shakespeare’s original, though her performance is entertaining and her singing a standout; and whilst I don’t usually have a problem with genderbending, Antonio becoming Antonia does create a little needless confusion in the plot, given that she seems to be forgotten about rather too quickly by her love interest than would be plausible.

Photo Credit – Johannes Hjorth

Additionally, the merry little set works, but the black, unlit space behind it as well as the occasionally pumped smoke gives the impression that the house is about to be swallowed by the Void. Then again, only using half the stage creates a more intimate feel, so it may have been a necessary sacrifice. Any small flaws are entirely outweighed by the quality of acting and direction, which are both second to none.

So if you’re getting the January blues and want a little more festivity in your life, or just enjoy good drama, Twelfth Night is not one to be missed.

4/5 stars