Much has been made – even here at PCB, and by me, of the not so recent trend of staging a Shakespeare play in a modern or quirky setting to mix things up and make it accessible. Would Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 film have been as successful had he not set Romeo and Juliet’s love among modern, colourful Miami crime families, and also chosing daring punctuation – calling it Romeo+Juliet might have brought in more of the teen audience. The director of the OVO production of Twelfth Night, Adam Nichols, is well aware of this trend.
“Our starting point for every Shakespeare production has been to ask ourselves how would Shakespeare present this play if he were writing for a contemporary audience?” Nichols said. “People often refer to ‘modern dress’ productions of Shakespeare, as if sticking the actors in flapper dresses or flares, or superficially transporting the action to Nazi Germany or Edwardian London, will, in itself, make a play more relevant to a contemporary audience, (but) you can’t impose a theme on any Shakespeare play just because you have taken a fancy to art deco interiors, or eighties new wave music. Theme and setting have to emerge from the characters, their situations and the words they speak.”
The words, ahh, those tricky and archaic words and phrases can be the bugaboo when going to a Shakespeare play you haven’t recently read in school, but my advice, just know the plot going in, and then let the slightly foreign cadence wash over you. Here, I’ll help.
Twelfth Night – a summary
The basic plot is about the power of love to override conventions of class and gender, just like Huey Lewis taught us. Several characters begin the play believing they want one thing, only to have love and ridiculous farce teach them they actually want something else. We start off with Duke Orsino feeling sorry for himself as Countess Olivia is mourning after the death of her brother, and has sworn off love and men. Meanwhile the survivor of a shipwreck, Viola, shows up and pretends to be her own dead brother to get a job at Orsino’s castle. She becomes Orsino’s love messenger to Olivia, and as you might expect, Olivia sees her as a man, everyone falls in love with the wrong person for a while, there’s lots of drinking and wooing, Viola’s brother Sebastian isn’t dead, and it all ends miraculously okay.
If you want to really nerd out – remember Shakespeare in Love? Where Queen Elizabeth asks Will to write something joyous, for Twelfth Night, which is the official end of Christmas celebrations? And then at the end of the movie we hear his thoughts as he writes, all sad, and he says “…and her name is Viola” and there’s Gwyneth in a really long shot, walking on the beach? Yeah, that won’t help you in the least with this deciphering this plot, but that’s a little nugget you can drop at intermission to your date, and look very savvy.
Shakespeare with a soundtrack
The mixups and drama this time will be set on a cruise liner at the height of the roaring twenties. Fun! A live jazz band performs music from Rihanna, Britney Spears, Radiohead and many more artists that could make Bard purists in attendance frown. This upbeat production is brought to life by Lucy Crick, Joshua Newman, Will Forester, Emma Watson, Anna Franklin, James Douglas, Jane Withers, Faith Turner, Andrew Margerison, David Widdowson, Alex White and Hannah Francis-Baker.
OVO is an award-winning theatre company, based at the Maltings Arts Theatre in St Albans where they produce a year-round repertory programme, but they’ve come to London for this show, their nineteenth staging of Shakespeare, so they know what they are doing. Take a date – it will show you’re a classy person, it’s affordable, and at the very least you’ll both enjoy the music.
running through May 5th – ticket info at The Rose Playhouse website.
More PCB Theatre Coverage
A former ABC National, Dallas and Atlanta radio personality, Martina O'Boyle is now making movies and covering culture in London, Dublin, and as far in Europe as the cheapie flights will take her, for Pop Culture Beast.