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Twelfth Night at Birmingham Rep

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by dpm (subscribe)
dpm is a Birmingham-based freelancer with experience of arts and lifestyle features.
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Shakespeare with a difference
Filter theatre takes Shakespeare's classic and drags it into the modern era with this musically-driven production. Edited to the basics and then expanded again with the gaps filled with madcap antics, rock guitars and plenty of slapstick; it's definitely Twelfth Night with a difference.

The essential tale of cross-dressing twins, confused lovers and cruel pranks remains at the heart and people who know the play will marvel at some of the clever twists. Those who don't know the story of Twelfth Night could be left confused by the company's decision to have the same actor (Harry Jardine) playing both Duke Orsino and Andrew Aguecheek and the same actress (Amy Marchant) in the roles of Viola and Sebastian without any costume changes.

Filter theatre company, Shakespeare, Twelfth Night, Birmingham Rep, Malvolio, Orsino. Sean Holmes, Elizabethan, Ferdy Roberts
Malvolio takes to the air guitar in Filter's Twelfth Night


The original Filter production was created with the Royal Shakespeare Company as part of the RSC's Complete Works project ten years ago and it was a fast and furious process based in theatrical workshops. And this shows - there are times when the humour works really well and others when an idea is just a little overplayed. Even at one hour and fifty minutes, this production would benefit from a bit of trimming.

That said there's plenty of energy with lively performances all round. Jardine is much stronger as the comic Aguecheek than as the lovesick Orsino and Marchant plays a steady hand as Viola/Sebastian.

Dan Poole is a fabulous Toby Belch. The only cast member in Elizabethan garb, he stumbles drunkenly through the play, dipping into other Shakespearean roles and generally fumbling around. Ferdy Roberts as the overly-proud Malvolio is his perfect foil – they are two fools who cannot see their own folly. Olivia Darnley is a sexy Olivia – so much so it's tricky accepting the opening scenario where she is locking herself away from any male interest while mourning her dead brother and father. Someone this sultry would hardly be that shy of attention.

Initially directed by Sean Holmes and now redirected by Oliver Dinsdale and Ferdy Roberts, the production makes great use of the Rep's theatre space with cast members chasing each other along rows, appearing and disappearing through the various entrances and exits and even joining the audience to watch some of the scenes. There's also effective interplay with the audience whose members are lending clothes, taking part in ball games, doing the conga and joining a drinking contest. Here's a word of warning – if you are an unwilling audience participant you might want to avoid the front row!

It's refreshing to see Twelfth Night turned on its head in this crazed romp through Shakespeare and it's worth catching for a different view on a classic play. Reading up on the plot beforehand will help ensure it's easier to follow and you're picking up more of the comic twists.
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Why? It's Shakespeare but not as we know it
When: until April 16
Phone: 0121 236 4455
Where: Birmingham Rep
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