Baz Luhrman’s Romeo and Juliet came immediately to mind with the guitar-strummed opening. Feste (Orowa Sikder), the clown, and Radiohead, share roles as purveyor of unrequited love. Duke Orsino (Matt Ball) is the victim of one-sided desire in Shakespeare’s comedy, and in this O’Reilly production is played rather effeminately nicely reinforcing the ambiguity of gender and identity central to the plot.
Music is certainly the food of love and audience members will be forgiven for shouting “play on” for the Johnny Flynn style interludes which are integral to the triumph of the play. Nevertheless reducing the experience to a great gig would be unrepresentative of Declan Clowry’s creation in which physicality and movement is delighted in. A dramatic lunge at Olivia in Malvolio’s passion is synchronised with the well known “thrust” of the climax to “some are born great, some achieve greatness….” while the Renaissance concept of the characters as Victims of Fortune is brought across in the whirling and turning of the choreography. (Even Orsino has recourse to the terrestrial domain with a steadying of his unstable situation by leaning on the bar.)
With the staging the directors have kept the influence of medieval culture on Shakespeare’s work; a split stage of two mansions representing the different realms of Orsino and Olivia while the platea is a shared space. The two worlds are most noticeably bridged by the Clown whose blues-emitting guitar penetrates both ruling spheres. The sartorial choices reflect the prohibition era Illyria with a sensational trench coat catching my eye.
Maria’s (Alice Fraser) Little Black Dress makes this “good wench” a very sexy waiting-woman to counterpart the equally sultry Olivia (Imogen O’Sullivan). In a play where gender is obfuscated and disguise is adopted, these two women stand out as clear bastions of femininity and Renaissance girl power. Viola (Kate O’Connor) is brilliant at fixing the irony of her situation and dons her mask convincingly to entrench Cesario in the camp of “we men.”
The duality of the play is built into the set and played out in the myriad combinations of character pairs. The element of twice was even extended to the number of improvisations appearing in the preview, with musician acting messenger; “err, there’s a man at the gate” and Sir Toby Belch (David Cochrane) attempting to commence a quite different scene to the rest of the cast.
This chaos only added to the jocular nature of the play in keeping with the Christmas festival of Twelth Night –a characteristically riotous season. The two drunkards enforced this joviality with some side-splitting dancing and stumbling. Whether chaos comes from order of order from chaos the ordered chaos or chaotic order of the production makes the play a success.