Another Roaring Success of Student Theatre
On the 14th and 15th of November, Mermaids brought Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night into the Roaring Twenties with equal parts acerbic wit and electrifying musicality. Directed and produced by Abby Kelley and Isabel Alexander, respectively, the play was performed at the University Union’s StAge. In their adaptation of the beloved and classic romantic comedy, the adventures of the wealthy but recently shipwrecked Viola and Sebastian were transported to a time of Gatsby-esque opulence and new money, serving as the perfect backdrop for the secrecy, androgyny and desire of the original text.
The tale followed Viola, played by the comedically intelligent Maddy McCourt, who disguises herself as a boy, calls herself Cesario, and gets a job as a servant for the Duke, Orsino, played by the commanding and charismatic Freddie Lawson. The themes of love, grief and estrangement intertwined to the soundtrack of Feste and his jazz band, musically directed by the talented Oscar Cooper and Joe Atkinson.
Upon arrival, a buzzing pre-show performance from the jazz band smoothly conducted the audience into seats at communal round tables. Far were my memories of school disco-esque nights in the 601. Decorated with deliciously sleazy tinsel curtains and twinkling fairy lights, the entire room had become a speakeasy — the audience as much transported to the Roaring Twenties as the actors. Indeed, weaving between the tables was Orsino, drink in hand and the quirk of a smile pulling at his lips.
This interplay and blurring of the lines between stage and audience was continued throughout the play with characters chasing each other through the tables and even a water-gun fight breaking out, much to the hilarity of a wholly engaged audience. Speaking of commanding presence, a mention must go to the extremely energetic and animated performance of Natalie Westgor, who donned a gold glitter bowler hat to play the drunken yet endearing Sir Andrew Aguecheek. Furthermore, interspersed within the witty Shakespearian romp were enchanting singing performances from Feste, played by Emily Speed. An exceptional moment was her Sinatra-worthy rendition of ‘New York, New York’.
Set in New York City, humour was to be found, whether intended or not, in the varying degrees of yank twang adopted by the cast. Perhaps the most standout accent of the show was Fabian’s, embodied by the lively George Cooper, hilarious in his chain smoking, he kept his pack of cigarettes in a golden garter around his thigh. Indeed the costumes added greatly to the transportive world building of the play, complete with bow-ties, gloves, pearls, and fringe, the cast were well dressed by Alexander.
Reflecting upon her directing experience, Kelley professed “I’m so lucky to have had the privilege to work with such a genuinely lovely and hilarious group of people, including all our production team, as well”. Explaining the thinking behind the innovative 1920s setting, Kelley went on to say that she and Alexander “love the idea of making Shakespeare accessible and translating his intentions with Twelfth Night into modern day”.
Alexander continues this idea of translation into modern relevance, saying that "Shakespearean language being so far removed from modern speech results in it being timeless. We wanted to make the most of this and set our play in the past, and the prohibition era of the 1920s seemed perfect for a play so heavily filled with references to alcohol and music. The plot itself is full of hidden identity, so a secret speakeasy was the perfect location, and we knew we had to have live music”.
This captivating performance of Twelfth Night was indeed a triumph. A total sensory experience, the production was every bit nostalgic for the raunch and indulgence of the glorious Jazz Age as well as the theatrical comedy of Shakespeare's language.