Review: 12th Night

by Jane

While travelling on a boat from London in the 1920s, twins Sebastian (Alex Possingham) and Viola (Lucia Ven Sebille) are separated and shipwrecked, finding themselves on the island of Illyria.  There, believing each other dead, the pair go on their separate journeys.   Our path primarily follows Viola, who, masquerading as a page to Duke Orsino (Max Garcia-Underwood) establishes a new life as Cesario.  We follow as Cesario falls for Orsino, who is in love with Lady Olivia (Carolyn Duchene), whom also has a crusher in the form of steward Malvolio (Guy O’Grady).   Lady Olivia, however, has her eye on Cesario.  Or is that Sebastian?

Promo image, or what you will.

This production by Urban Myth Theatre of Youth, as a part of their biennial Shakespeare series, has found itself a very strong young cast.  While Duchene tends to delve a bit too far into hysteria, Lady Olivia’s hysterics – both in love and in loneliness – are given beautiful form.  More likely to be laughed at than laughed with, Duchene’s Olivia is nonetheless a sympathetic character with whom the audience rallies to find her match – something which is true of (almost) all characters.

The one exception to this, perhaps, is found in Malvolio, where O’Grady gives the most nuanced and textual characterisation in the production.  His monologues are delivered with entitlement and standoffishment, yet Malvolio never wains in his high opinion of himself, and clear condensation of the daft people he finds himself with.  The oldest in the cast and the most self-controlled in character, even with yellow stockings and a wry unaccustomed smile O’Grady’s Malvolio does not lower himself to the hysteric lovesick in his contemporaries.  The sad side effect to this, however, is we are rarely onside with Malvolio, preferring to cheer on his adversaries (particularly with the satisfyingly malicious Maria [Alex Petkov]), even in his deepest moments of peril.

But the play 12th Night, so long heralded for it’s strong female views and characters, where none of the women are reduced to a mere love interest, must find it sits on the shoulders of a strong Cesario, and an equally strong Viola.   In Van Sebille, director Glenn Hayden has found such a performer.  Filled with charm, lust, strength, and an acerbic wit, this Cesario very much enjoys playing the town, and the personable Van Sebille knows how to play the audience.  Excelling more in Viola/Cesario’s strength rather than in emotional turmoil, Ven Sebille nevertheless maintains her poise in character, and a beautiful voice for Shakespeare.

Enunciation and an understanding of the rhythms inherent of Shakespeare are fairly strong amongst the group, but can get lost in characterisation: whether that be in hysteria or drunkenness.    In the Goodwood Institute, the strong projection of the cast means they do not struggle to be heard, it is just the particulars of speech which can get lost.  And in 12th Night, as you try to remember exactly who is in love with whom (and keep being distracted because the last time you saw a version of Twelfth Night it was Amanda Bynes in She’s The Man…), there are many particulars to keep track of and in which you can get lost.

The depth and dexterity of Shakespeare’s text, and how long a version of it Urban Myth have chosen to present is admirable and handled well, and the cast is to be congratulated for taking on and excelling so admirably; however, occasionally with such a young cast, the depth can’t be fully realised, and the dexterity begins to slightly lag.   It is important to note, though, while this is a youth theatre company, they have very much strived to make a work which appreciates its complexity and isn’t for a children’s audience, but for an older audience which can delve into the strengths (and length) of Shakespeare’s text.

Young band Chilli Masala serve to fill out sound, and the deep stage and simple design by Kerry Reid.    A near constant accompaniment, from the four-piece collective, or a single guitar or melodica, provides a brand of gypsy jazz which is engaging and adds to the production through talent in both composition and execution, and four characters which become as integrated into the piece as anyone else.  Whether they are swigging down a wine bottle with Sir Toby Belch (or with the audience at the top of act two), or expressing shock and confusion with the rest of the residents of Illyria.  Occasionally joined by Tenassee Haigh singing in the role of Feste, Chilli Masala and the music add, alternatively, a depth and lightness to the piece.

A truly professional quality production has been realised: lighting (Nivven Barlow), the movement of the bands playing platform around the space, and use of extras, allows easy transitions between locations.  The 1920s inspired costumes (Reid) are well contracted and for the most part true to the era.

Perhaps more important than anything I’ve said here yet, I truly had a fun time at the production, and it is always a delight to see young people not only enjoying a work in the arts, but also excelling.   Just to see Shakespeare performed with a troup of 29 is a delight; this 12th Night is done with talent, heart, and utis.

Take from this a disclaimer if you will:  over the past few months I have had the privilege of getting to know several people from Urban Myth (including 12th Night cast members O’Grady and Kym Begg, and director Hayden), and I am really happy to not only have them as friends and supporters of me as a writer, but to also see them doing great, high quality work.

Urban Myth Theatre of Youth present 12th Night by William Shakespeare.  Directed by Glenn Hayden, AD Simone Avarmidis, set and costume design by Kerry Reid, lighting by Nivven Barlow, music by Chilli Masala.  Cast includes Max Garcia-Underwood, Lucia Van Sebille, Felix Alpers Kneebone, Carolyn Duchene, Alex Possingham, Partick Klavins, Kym Begg, Guy O’Grady, Alex Petkov, Tennessee (TJ) Haigh, Lucca Boyce, Felix Alpers Kneebon, Lauren Reid, Sarah Brennan, Hugh Hirst-Johnson, Madeleine Seeary, Gabriel Allani.  At the Goodwood Institute.  Season Closed.