Twelfth Night presented by Yard Players
What is it?
A comedic but poignant modern take on Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night by the Yard Players, an up and coming South London theatre troupe.
What is it all about?
Based on the original play but set in a modern-day English seaside town, it follows the story of shipwrecked Viola who, disguised as a male, becomes a page for Duke Orsino (Duncan Dury). A complex web of cross-dressing, intrigue and humiliation, it culminates in a happy ending for all involved, except of course the ever servile Malvolio (Daniel Christostomou).
How did it make me feel?
I went on my own through the Jack Brockley pub (a jolly boozer located in Lewisham), and entered the small, very much off-West End, theatre. It is a little space but it does have fantastic acoustics. The lights came on and the presence of iPhones, Siri and a lanyard make it clear that the play is set in the modern world, but it is not clear if the context of this is fully developed. It is obvious that it is by the sea because of the sea-gull sound effects but there is a need to know a lot more about what the Northern seaside town is like. This could be done more through the set (James Eley, who also directed), one reason why I’d like to see a higher budget version in the future.
That being said, director James Eley’s modern spin on Twelfth Night allows for a more in depth understanding of the characters. The energetic dynamic between Olivia (Candice Price) and Maria (Heloise Spring) is gripping throughout. Duke Orsino (Duncan Dury) command the stage, and really do feel like a slightly pretentious but lost version of the original. However, the real star of the show is Malvolio (Daniel Christostomou). He becomes more and more interesting as the play goes on. Sometimes with his cross-gartered stockings and prudishness, it is easy to laugh at him, and the audience do giggle along. Yet the stuttering, sensibly dressed Malvolio depicted by Christostomou really turns the audience’s assumptions on their head.
What if Malvolio is more complicated than we give him credit for? I felt that in him there was something of the bullied kid, who didn’t mean to be an outcast, who just couldn’t help it! I felt Malvolio was vulnerable. This nuanced interpretation directed by Eley and exceeding well-performed by Christostomou makes me think: what if Malvolio is not to blame for being mocked? What if it isn’t his own ego that leads to him believing the falsified letter? Maybe he isn’t neurotypical so is literal and easily tricked? Either way, Malvolio (Christostomou) is so convincing when he says ‘I’ll be revenged on the whole pack of you’, that you really feel it. The audience empathises with the stiff, foolish, yellow stocking wearing man after all.
Overall the great thing about this play is that Eley’s decision to use the original text really does show that Shakespeare is as relevant now as ever. Malvolio, especially, is someone we should all take the piss out of a little less because ‘He hath been most notoriously abused’. It is a brilliantly engaging play, but the modern setting needs to be clarified more. Still, the Yard Players certainly are experts at making Shakespeare accessible!
Twelfth Night is playing at the Brockley Jack Studio Theatre until the 1st of February 2020.
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