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Twelfth Night review at Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford – ‘energetic comedy’

The cast of Watermill Theatre's touring production of Twelfth Night. Photo: Scott Rylander The cast of Watermill Theatre's touring production of Twelfth Night. Photo: Scott Rylander
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This Twelfth Night opens in a jazz-age speakeasy and never really leaves there. Paul Hart’s playful production centres on the considerable musical talent of his cast, who have contributed to the score as well as singing and swinging to a man and woman. Which is which can sometimes be a moot point, however. Yet another layer is added to the gender confusion inherent in the plot as Sir Toby (played by a buxom Lauryn Redding) maintains the male title, is referred to as “she” but, as usual, marries co-conspirator Maria. Same-sex marriage, normal to us, might have been a little startling in the era of Prohibition.

But such a thought is too literal-minded for this celebration of make-believe. From the first moments, before Orsino’s famous opening lines, when audience members are drawn into the jazzy dancing on the raised dais in the middle of the stage, it is clear that everything that ensues is play-acting – neither life nor death is to be taken too seriously. Peter Dukes’ haughty Malvolio, funny and feminised in his yellow stockings, can grab the mic and croon along with the best of them.

While gender switching is generally welcome – Katy Owen plays Malvolio at the Globe this week and Tamsin Greig’s version was a triumph at the National – sometimes something can be lost. Transforming Antonio into a woman here removes one strand of homoerotic love and the loose definitions of gender elsewhere blur the critical effect of the central confusion between Orsino, Viola and Olivia.

Rebecca Lee is a fervent Viola, Victoria Blunt a naughty Maria, additionally popping up in the box-tree scene, and Jamie Satterthwaite a spoilt-boy Orsino, but the pleasure for cast and audience alike resides mainly in instrumental proficiency and close-harmony singing.

 

Verdict
Energetic comedy with extra gender switching and plenty of good jazz, but with its serious edges blurred
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