Editor in Chief Elliot Douglas reviews The Aspects Theatre Company’s performance of Twelfth Night.
Only once in my life have I performed on stage in my second language, and only then did I make it through with several glasses of red wine in the interval (cast against type as a heterosexual Nazi in the Austrian play Tales of the Vienna Woodlands – pictures on request). I found the experience incredibly difficult, so I can only take my hat off to the cast members of On The Rocks’ Twelfth Night, who managed this feat with panache and professionalism which belied the fact that English was their second language.
The Aspects theatre company, a group of Italian high school students, reached out to On The Rocks to enquire about collaborating for a theatre production, and On The Rocks responded beautifully. The UK’s biggest student-run arts festival have now gone international, with this being the first cross-country collaboration and, I’m sure they will hope, not the last.
The simplified, pared-down version of the Shakespeare classic was made wondrous by the sheer joy of the entire cast, evidently excited to be performing for an English-speaking audience in Scotland (and on a remarkably sunny day). The adaptation mixed modern music and even dance numbers in, giving them a chance to show off more than just their acting talents. Costumes and make-up were appropriate, and given that the students have travelled from Italy to be here, the minimalist set, provided by a slideshow, was a stroke of genius.
In terms of acting, the commanding Olivia, snippy Malvolio and cape-wearing Count Orsino were stand-out stars of the show, while Sir Toby Belch, sporting a fine fake moustache and beard, brought a great deal of physical comedy to the uproarious play. But the real strength of this show lay in its ensemble, with the cast’s enthusiasm for the text and the production and willingness to work together clearly shining through.
Yes, the cavernous StAge meant that some lines got lost; yes, there were a few problems with pronunciation and blocking – but none of that mattered given the cast’s inability to faulter. At moments where I have often seen far more weathered actors stumble or simply give up, this young troupe powered through, helped each other out, and recounted beautifully one of Shakespeare’s liveliest comedies.
The production was followed by a discussion with two academics from the Schools of Modern Languages and English, but the best part of the show was seeing the beaming students as they bowed at the end of the production, having achieved something fun. I look forward to On The Rocks continuing such collaborations in future years, showing that the festival really does have something for people of all nationalities and age groups.