TWELFTH NIGHT: BRIGHTON DOME
- Venue: Brighton Dome
- Director: Sean Holmes
- Music: Tom Haines
Filter, one of my favourite companies, overplay their Brechtian hand with Twelfth Night which toured nationally and took in the Dome, Brighton. Director Sean Holmes allows a convoluted plot involving disguise, cross-dressing and a pair of boy-girl twins to spiral out of control.
If more than five percent of the predominantly young theatre-goers were aware that Sarah Belcher as Viola was being two characters at once and conversing with her brother at the close I’d be surprised. I'm aware of the need to double up on tour but this struck me as an unwise ploy for audiences that were always going to include a curriculum component.
I left feeling that the whole had come nowhere near the sum of the parts since there are impressive elements throughout, notably the charismatic Jonathan Broadbent as Orsino with a juggling routine that could be an act in itself. And yet it is his character who notes in the very first speech of the play that after excess, the appetite for anything is likely to disappear.
A general lack of purpose contrasts with the countless witty and authentically Brechtian touches; Viola receives information about the shipwreck from a shipping forecast as she holds a transistor and Olivia catalogues the cycle of her sexual longings by scraping on electric bass.
At 90 minutes without an interval, this still seems a long evening and it is surprising to see Natasha Broomfield (Feste) and Fergus O’Donnell (Malvolio) labour through the tedious Sir Topaz scene when it is normally cut even from full-length versions.
The music, all performed by the cast or on-stage musicians, is ravishing. Sir Toby and Aguecheek’s cakes and ale (Special Brew to be precise) slow-burn, incantatory revelling song using the original lyrics is a particular highlight which nearly won me over completely. Perhaps I should have had one of the tequila shots on offer to those who clambered on stage?
This treatment is successful in making one of Shakespeare’s principal points emphatically; physical attraction can be instantaneous and overpowering. The resourceful Liz Fitzgibbon who plays Olivia with wonderful ironic detachment leaves us in no doubt as to the fluidity of her character’s feelings despite Belcher’s lack of charisma and woeful verse speaking. (When Fitzgibbon asks Belcher whether she is a comedian, her reply in the negative acquires extra, unwanted irony.)
Programme notes reveal that this version, while originally the work of Sean Holmes in 2008, has been ‘redirected’ by two company members. There have been major cast changes in the second half of the current tour. Great jokes and puns left in the text that might be easily recognised across 400 years even by non-Shakespeare buffs consistently fail to hit their mark. Ultimately the production is too self-satisfied and needs to rein itself in.