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And the band played on

Audiences starved of live Shakespeare would lap it up

Twelfth Night
Twelfth Night

Twelfth Night, in front rooms everywhere, from Friday, June 12, to Sunday, June 14

Review by Jon Lewis

IN return for a ticket to watch St Albans-based OVO theatre’s production of William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, refashioned from its live performance last year at the Maltings Theatre for the internet, audiences are invited to dress up in 1920s clothes, and take along something yellow and something like a drum or a saucepan to make lots of noise.

OVO have clearly observed and learned from Creation Theatre’s Zoom performances of The Tempest in April to develop the format further in creating the illusion that the actors are not working in isolation in front of their laptops. The conceit is that shipwrecked twins Viola (Flora Squires) and Sebastian (Earl Frisquos), vaudeville dancers, have been rescued by the luxury liner SS Illyria. Onboard, Viola finds employment disguised as a boy, Cesario, working for the hoary captain of the ship, Orsino (Will Forrester).

OVO’s graphic designer, Adam Nichols, has created virtual backdrops on the green screens behind the actors that just about line up in sync, while Zoom boxes are aligned in rows that give the impression that everyone is on deck, or in a ballroom, together.

Cesario’s task is to promote the love interests of the Captain to Olivia (Emma Wright), a glamorous and famous actress whose day-to-day affairs are managed by the prim and, in her mind, upwardly mobile Malvolia (Faith Turner). It’s a role-change similar to that of Tamsin Greig in Simon Godwin’s National Theatre production, even to the point of wearing hot pants and yellow stockings. Turner, like Greig, is very funny, and ultimately touching when the plot to put her in the brig is played out.
Her tormentors are the double act Lady Toby (Anna Franklin), a faded star, and her twittish rich friend Sir Andrew (Will Franklin), real-life husband and wife, so they share the same screen, and the alluring stylist Maria (Rosa Lennox), who is suffering from All About Eve syndrome.

Overseeing the actions is a modern-day Buttons, Fabian (Will Pattle), a laddish croupier who gives the audience instructions on how to use Zoom. The musical elements are pre-recorded and integrated into the narrative artfully. Hannah Francis-Baker is irresistible as the crooner Feste, joining others in the cast singing well-known pop songs by stars like Britney Spears as 20s

The finale is a real showstopper.

Malvolia croons Radiohead’s Creep alone, its lyrics cuttingly appropriate for a woman whose pomposity has been ridiculed. This entertaining production deserves a long run online – I am sure there are audiences starved of live Shakespeare who would lap it up.

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