Arts Review: Twelfth Night – Bard in the Botanics

Dir. Jennifer Dick, Botanic Gardens, 24 June – 9 July

If there is one thing that has always been missing from Shakespeare, it is yellow turtlenecks. Bard In The Botanics are seeking to remedy this appalling oversight with their performance of Twelfth Night set in the Swingin’ Sixties. With pink flamengos, beehives and record players, this staging tries to reinterpret the play in a perhaps more colourful context.  Twelfth Night has been performed all over the world, in innumerable settings and styles, from the Globe to football pitches, and it is a testament to its enduring relevance that this performance still produces bellyaches.

All the deceptions and role changing romps of Twelfth Night are given an additional twist, in that the identity swapping twin leads and their love interests are played by actors of another gender. This switch is likely designed to emphasise the original pantomime of the deception, which may have lost some of its comedic factor since it was originally written, but – judging on some earwigging – this could cause confusion for those with no previous engagement with Twelfth Night.

The Sixties setting might appear at first to be a random, arbitrary choice to merely mix up the preconceptions of the play, but the use of 60s music and dances does blend well with, and builds on, the storyline. It creates another level of comedy beyond the nontheless sparkling wordplay, sharply delivered by the actors.

Jeste the fool, a personal favourite, produced big laughs with her slapstick lip-syncing and quick comebacks, while the rest of the cast boogied down to some genius choreography. The dance additions were the highlights of the action, although this may have been due to their overreliance, shadowing some of the piercing dialogue.

Shakespeare’s plays have persisting popularity because of two key factors. Firstly, the storylines with all the classic hooks and attractions, appealing to common elements and emotions in people. Secondly, the wit and punchiness of the lines, and the lyricism of the phrases and sentiments. This performance holds up the first perfectly, and adds a unique flavour to familiar scenes. There is little to be hoped for, except a tad more of the substance beneath the style.

[Louise Wylie – @WomanPendulum]

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