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Twelfth Night review at Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh – ‘exuberant exploration of gender’

Twelfth Night featuring (from left) Meilyr Jones, Colette Dalal Tchantcho, Brian James O'Sullivan, Jade Ogugua, Aly Macrae, Dawn Sievewright, Lisa Dwyer Hogg, Dylan Read, Joanna Holden and Guy Hughes. Photo: Mihaela Bodlovic
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Director Wils Wilson ventures into the parts of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night that most productions leave alone, cutting few, if any, lines in her exuberant, party-time exploration of gender and the deceptions of love.

The result is a pop-age house party in an abandoned country mansion, created with crepuscular detail by designer Ana Ines Jabares-Pita. The play is performed by the bored, hedonistic party-goers,the roles allocated on a gender blind basis. Meilyr Jones’ music gives body to Feste’s songs and supplements them with new ones that add extra glimpses of character detail.

Powerful and hugely entertaining, the production sustains itself over three hours without self-indulgence. Dylan Read is magnificent as a slightly fey Feste, as physically fleet of foot as he is quick witted with wordplay. Christopher Green’s Malvolio is an uptight bowler-hatted clerk with an outrageous drag queen hidden in his closet.

The gender explorations are particularly interesting. Both Orsino (Colette Dalal Tchantcho) and Sebastian (Joanne Thomson) are played as trouser roles, adding another layer to the love triangle between Orsino, Jade Ogugua’s clear Viola/Cesario and Lisa Dwyer Hogg’s infatuated Olivia.

Meanwhile, Dawn Sievewright’s Lady Tobi, bullying both her fellow actors and the audience, swaps gender, while celebrating Tobi’s intimacy with Olivia’s handmaid, Maria (Joanna Holden).

Of greater note is the way these shifts place the various love matches in relation to the gulling of Malvolio, which now becomes not an extreme (and somehow pointless) piece of sport, but one end of a spectrum of relationships based on false hope.

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Magnificent, music-infused Twelfth Night takes the play’s gender confusion to new levels