Books Editor Henry Crabtree reviews the first entirely student-run Byre production, Shakespeare’s comedy ‘Twelfth Night’, which excelled on its opening night. Tickets for Friday 13th April’s production at the Byre are still on sale.
“Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ’em.” Though Malvolio has these words turned on him in the denouement of the play, I would say this performance of Twelfth Night manages to achieve all three. With the mammoth task of being the first entirely independent student production at the Byre, the cast and crew of this comedy put on an immeasurably entertaining and skilful performance on their opening night. Before the performance, The Tribe put a few questions to the director of this production, Oliver Gilford:
Why Twelfth Night?
OG: “I love Twelfth Night because it’s such a weird little play – and I think that it often doesn’t get the love that it deserves as a result. It’s a bit messy, it’s a quite unrealistic, and it’s very silly. Like very VERY silly. But that’s really what gives it its charm – it’s an unashamedly fun time, and we have tried to reflect that in every aspect of the production!
Of course, tied in to that, there are some truly touching moments; the main narrative follows two twins separated by natural disaster, and a love triangle to end all love triangles. The mix of utterly ridiculous comedy and brilliantly crafted character development makes it probably my favourite Shakespeare play.”
What can we expect?
OG: “Well the first thing that you can expect is to have fun. It’s such a fun play, and we’ve really emphasised that – with the performances, the costumes, even the set, we’re going along on a really fun ride, and we want the audience to come along with us.
A particular highlight for me is the live music performed by Ricky Thunder and the Thought Police, who are throwing it back to the early 2000s, and even have a couple of original tracks mixed in there as well!”
What has been your experience of preparing this first entirely student-run Byre production?
OG: “It’s been an absolute blast! Of course, it’s kind of tough – being the first independent production in the Byre means that we don’t have the support network that some of the other shows going up in the Byre have, and that means the pressure is on a little bit to make sure that we sell tickets.
But of course, going hand in hand with that is the freedom to work how, when, and where we want. The team on this show has been absolutely fantastic, and the cast are just so damn talented that while it’s been hard work, I wouldn’t change it for anything!”
Entering the Byre to the sight of 15 masked actors, flanked by a live band and accompanied by the soundtrack of lapping water, it might have resembled one of the town’s more outlandish initiation ceremonies than a prelude to a Shakespearean classic. Nevertheless, the production’s inclusion of Ricky Thunder and the Thought Police, a four-piece whose pop-punk rock covers and original work accompanied, enhanced and even dabbled in to the acting. Credit must go to both band member and musical director Oli Savage, the producers Hanna Lawson and Madison Hauser, and the Technical Director Grace Cowie for balancing the music with the action. Their mock annoyance with Bailey Fear’s fool Feste and his seamless joining to sing with the band was a masterful piece of background riposte that proved this unusual welding of on-stage music incorporated WITHIN a fictitious performance worked brilliantly. So, in testament to Ricky Thunder and the Thought Police, as Sebastian Allum’s wondrously and regally-portrayed Orsino says in I.i, “If music be the food of love, play on.”
A tale of twins shorn from each other by a storm, amidst a love triangle marked by misperception and hilarity, Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night lives and dies by its chemistry and interplay. The range of passions required for Malvolio’s fall from braggadocio to gull (portrayed wonderfully, and with no hint of embarrassment, by Morgan Corby), Olivia’s opening-up of her heart, and the twins’ reunion might be more at home in a tragedy – but their juxtaposition amidst the capers of the rest of the cast only served to heighten the emotional payoff. The capers of Sir Toby and Sir Andrew, whose drunk repartee with Fabian and Maria in the subplot to gull Malvolio prove the comic lifeblood of the play. The timing of Lydia Seed as Toby and Adam Spencer as Andrew stood out in the performance, especially alongside Gareth Owen’s Fabian in a hilarious scene where a hugely-realistic tree and chair become hiding places for the trio avoiding Malvolio’s line-of-sight. The comedic highlight reel of this play is too long for one review, but look out for: a banana, garters, a drunken macarena, and what looked to be a very real cracking-up from Alex Duckworth’s Maria that reminded the audience how silly much of the play’s events are.
One of Shakespeare’s most famous plays for gender identity and cross-dressing, the casting of Sebastian and Sir Toby as women (Grace Thorner and Lydia Seed respectively) along with the wardrobe change of Eleanor Burke’s Viola when she becomes Cesario prove this performance a worthy heir to the tradition. The twins in particular benefited from the costume similarity, and when both on stage in the final scene, the amusing misunderstanding in identity from the other characters is mirrored in their dress and positioning. This is also a play that revels in the metatheatre, and in ideas of players and playing through numerous levels of meta-acting (that worked also with two band members’ surprising inclusion as officers of Illyria). Viola’s adoption of identity as Cesario and the competing emotions of her and her imagined self are notable in her heartfelt conversations with both Orsino and Olivia. This performance, and her union with Orsino in the denouement whilst still in the garb of Cesario and not her own clothes, shows that while the characters may think they hold true to the “I am not that I play” (I.v), their levels run much deeper.
A play with numerous interplays and subplots can oft be difficult to stage, relying on an attentive audience and canny direction, but Twelfth Night fell into none of the expected pitfalls. This must be in no small part attributed to the crew behind the performance, whose use of changing (in the form of Iona Robson’s Olivia from mournful black to green) and constant (the twins Viola and Sebastian, though separated, sport matching leather jackets) costume, staging, and hilarious props that I won’t spoil – though keep an eye out for the colours yellow and pink. These come to fruition in detailing both the subtle, and the more overt, changes in character throughout the play, and credit must go to Kat Reynders and the costuming department.
To conclude, this independent performance of Twelfth Night proved a riotous night of comedy at the Byre, and I implore you to grab tickets for Friday 13th’s performance while you can. A thoroughly enjoyable adaption of a classic that does not take itself too seriously is hard to find, so congratulations to the director Oliver Gilford, the entirety of the cast and crew both on and off-stage, and to Ricky Thunder and the Thought Police for a wonderful performance.
STARS: * * * *