Twelfth Night at Gillingham School

prompttwelfthnightSHAKESPEARE’S Twelfth Night, often seen as the “entry level” play in the canon, has been staged in countless periods, settings and costumes over the years.

Now Gillingham School teachers Richie Lunn and Jane McCarthy have chosen the post-punk era, music of the Sex Pistols and the Clash, and an urban wasteland setting for the end of term production.

With TV monitors at various angles on the stage, showing the Costa Concordia, Lady Di’s wedding, standoffs between police and striking miners and occasionally some “live” shots of Malvolio in his prison, it’s a confusing banquet for the eyes.

What they, and the talented young cast, haven’t done is to update the language other than a few modern interjections.

Apparently the choice was inspired by both the anarchic atmosphere and cross dressing in the days of the New Roman­tics, and certainly Viola /Cesario and her brother Sebastian sport lots of eye makeup and Adam Ant stripes.

Anyway, enough of the inexplicable and largely irrelevant setting.

It all starts, a la Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake, with the duke Orsino posing for paparazzi while expres­sing the need for music to feed his lovelorn soul. Jake Wilson-Hebben is a flashy duke, so it’s no surprise that his court, punky young women with lots of chewing gum, wait on his every whim.

Viola (Alex Broughton), wrecked at sea and mourning for her lost brother, determines to dress as a boy and seek work with the duke. She’s immediately smitten, but he sends her off to woo Olivia, a countess who is also mourning, for her own brother and father.

The Gillingham Olivia, played like Toyah Wilcox by Anna Sidford-Rose, falls for the “boy”.

At the same time her drunken uncle Sir Toby (in a barnstorming performance by JonJon Stevens)  is pushing his peculiar friend Sir Andrew (all hippy-dippy attitudes nicely done by the lanky Archie O’Neill) to woo Olivia.

Maria (Chloe Norris) is the funny and scheming servant who catches Toby for a bit of fun on the rare moments he’s able.

Shakespeare’s clowns are always difficult for modern audiences, and here Feste (Ed Ford) is played as a stand up comedian and musician.

Talking of musicians, the “music” for the well known songs was composed and played by Oliver Stock­ley, and his tiny cameo performance as the priest proved that you can electrify the stage with the smallest number of words.

The production made the most of the broad comedy, and there is lots in Twelfth Night.

Jake Robinson was a silky, slimy and sensational Malvolio, perhaps the cast member who best understood the need for the audience to hear all the words in order that they could laugh – and it had nothing to  do with RP.

It’s such a pity that some of the cast seemed to clamp their jaws together as though emba­r­­rassed to be speaking Shakes­pear­ean English.

I only mention this as I overheard an audience member at the start ask his companion “Why do they have to do this Shakespeare stuff?” and another, leaving at the interval, saying: “I can’t hear it, I can’t stand any more.”  It was their loss – this wasn’t flawless, but it was intelligent and often very funny and it was certainly accessible to anybody who cared to listen.


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