Strictly Twelfth Night, AUB, Royal Bath Hotel Bournemouth

TWELFTH Night, a story of love, mistaken identity, revenge, gender swapping and more love, is widely recognised as entry-level Shakespeare. So how do you make it relevant to today’s concerns about equal opportunities, self-selection of pronouns and celebrity culture?

At Arts University Bournemouth, guest director Aileen Gonsalves found the perfect solution, a brilliantly-conceived mashup of the play and the phenomenon known as “Strictly”, (or Strictly Come Dancing to those old-school few of us who don’t organise our work and social calendars around the programme and its Saturday night TV slot).

Bournemouth retains some of its old grand hotels, and none is grander than the Royal Bath, set on the cliff below the Russell Cotes Museum, at the entrance to the once-fashionable and elegant shopping street, Westover Road. Happily for the production team, the management of the hotel agreed to the use of its ballroom for the show. The entrance has hardly changed in more than six decades, and as families and friends of the students packed in to the ballroom, the actors and the very visible “CREW”, organising the filming of the climactic evening of the competition, made the most of the space, with its majestic staircase and its soaring ceiling.

With just enough cuts and tweaks to keep the action moving, and never over-egging the dance show references, the director separated her cast into contestants, hosts, double agents and wildcards. The conceit was that the famous identical twins, Viola and Sebastian, were the only people who didn’t know they were part of a television show. With two Roaring Twenties-style hosts (Madina Orazbekova and Katya Jacobs) to keep the glamour going, the audience was encouraged to interact as they watched the energetic cast (none more so than Alex Osbourne’s Orsino) tell Shakespeare’s story.

The group was fortunate to have Elle Stokes and Ele Spreckley to play twins Viola and Sebastian. Helped by wigs and costumes, they looked incredibly similar, so their mutual discovery that each was alive really had the wow factor. Anne Faraday made Malvolio a truly pitiful character, duped by the comedy quartet of Sir Toby (Kevin Pako), Lady Andrea Agucheek ( Jester Walker), Fabian (Aimiliani Paradisi) and the excellent Beatriz Saramago as Maria. The box hedge scene provided hilarious physical comedy.

Gabriela Chanova’s Olivia fell hook, line and sinker for an increasingly frantic Viola, whose “reveal” as a woman made sense of Orsino’s immediate volte face, and Esther Knowles as the “guest contestant” Antonio was a sad loser. The “wild card”, clown Feste, was perfectly played as a musical pierrot by the multi-talented Eleri Celyn.

Responsible for the dancing, and the beautifully-timed movement, was Claire Camble-Hutchins and Wayne Ferguson shot the beach scenes on video, ready for streaming to the screen in the ballroom.

This group will be graduating in the summer, after two and three year courses in what must be the most difficult times for performing arts students, taught during lock-downs and social distancing. They have come through it with huge determination and talent.

We look forward to seeing their future careers.


Production photographs to follow.

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