NEVER before have the eight and ninth words of this particular Shakespeare comedy meant quite so much. As the band in the Elephant Jazz Club prepare us for a night of prohibition-era entertainment, we are not bothered about music being the food of love, we just want the band to “play on”.
Two of the things the tiny Berkshire playhouse are known for are Shakespeare, with Ed Hall’s Propeller Theatre starting there, and actor-musician shows from John Doyle’s reign in the late 90s through to Craig Revel-Horwood and beyond, so it is fitting that Paul Hart has combined the two, in last year’s Romeo and Juliet, and now with Twelfth Night, one of the most appropriate for the addition of a little music. The music in this production is part standard, from Summertime to recent Lorde hit Royal, part original and part Shakespearean, all played with such panache and confidence by the cast, who of course are also playing all the characters too, and each one is a talented singer, giving us an evening of delightful song, much of it in exquisite harmony, and dance from Lindy Hop to Charleston as well as the play itself.
As is often the case in Shakespeare, the fool seems almost in control of the situation, and from the very start Feste is always there, watching. Offue Okegbe brings reality to the role, almost Prospero-like during the shipwreck scene, with sensitive guitar playing and a beautiful singing voice too. Cross-dressing is a big part of Twelfth Night, and this production has a mixed casting too, with Emma MacDonald playing Antonia rather than Antonio, and Lauryn Redding playing Sir Toby Belch, all of which, added to the already mixed-up siblings, makes the play even more muddled than the original. Every other member of the cast works hard for every second of the show, as part of a tight ensemble whilst maintaining their own character. I could list all of them, but I would run out of superlatives, as they all pay such attention to their craft.
This is not a show for the type of person who finds it hard to cope with modern settings of older plays, or who gets confused with actors playing more than one role, but if you are such a person, you would be missing out on what is surely how the Bard himself would have developed his own work as time passed. This show is up there with last year’s actor-musician version of Singin’ In The Rain at Salisbury, and should be seen by as many people as they can squeeze in. This is top-notch entertainment, on every level – forget those pigeonholes and stereotypes – this is truly a show for all.
The Watermill Theatre is 50 years old this year, and I am very much looking forward to seeing what they do with A Little Night Music next month, after their current bit of classic Ayckbourn. If you can get to Newbury, you will be delighted at their beautiful theatre, converted from an actual Watermill, but if not. look out for their next visit to Salisbury.