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Sell A Door present


Twelfth Night


by William Shakespeare


Directed by Bryn Holding


Greenwich Playhouse


 16 Feb -14 March 2010






A review by James Richards for EXTRA! EXTRA!

Bringing the Bard up to date is always difficult. William Shakespeare’s plays are long, dense and seemingly distant from the 21st century hence, the potential pitfalls are legion. Sell A Door’s Twelfth Night is a worthy yet flawed production of one of the repertoire’s best-loved comedies.

Viola, shipwrecked and apparently bereaved of her twin brother, assumes the role of a male servant to a local lord, carrying for him messages of love to the grieving Olivia. Viola’s suit, to her dismay, is all too effective, for cupid’s bolt strikes the wrong target. Before long, the social and sexual order is turned upon its head.

Sell a Door have set the narrative in Edwardian England, a choice not without potential play. Emily Barratt’s costumes competently evoke the period; the gents dress dapper – the girls, dour, if in mourning or drowned in skirts if ‘below stairs’. In a period where servants and masters were still a different species, the opportunity for comic inversion is still ripe; we lap it up when supposedly un-educated menials run rings around their effete masters with streetwise cunning and wit (if you need proof, think Blackadder and Jeeves and Worcester). Unfortunately, director Bryn Holding stymies our enjoyment with a series of questionable decisions. Why make Maria, Olivia’s serving girl, shrewish? Ella Moody admirably delivers a scolding northern wench who is domineering and conspiratorial in more or less the same breath. It’s an odd mix, which, you feel, ultimately distracts from the comic impact of the subplot.

We are equally confused when we learn that Feste, the jester, who should be the smartest gal in the room, cannot sing for toffee and is not particularly funny. Amy Buttersworth is exceptionally brave to bawl out the delicate Elizabethan love ballads with such excruciating atonality. Yet you cannot help but feel sorry for her that the director saw fit to emphasise the play’s theme of discordance in such an obvious way. Her mockney, surly clown seems disinterested – fine, but in such a key role when the audience really needs her to guide us to play’s point she is absent. The poetry dies on her lips or else is squandered in a flurry. Machine-gunning the audience when the ammunition is subtle sophistry is a recipe for general confusion, not delight.

And strange as it may seem, even confusion, chaos and disorder need a pattern if they are to work on stage. Nowhere was this more evident than in the unpalatable midnight sing-a-long scene, which was hard to watch. Brave, yes, but totally unnecessary when the text is so rich with possibility.

However, when Amy Clarke’s Viola lounges with Alexander Devrient’s Orsino, sipping wine, listening to a little early jazz, everything clicks. Languid decadence and the hint of suppressed homosexual love come to fore and the period suddenly becomes relevant. Here was warmth and meaning, and we basked in it. 

Certainly, there is no shortage of talent here. Emma Deegan, as Olivia, and Scott Weston as Antonio/Curio gave strong performances, perhaps because they seemed to work with, rather than against the music of the Bard’s verse. Variety of vocal range is so important in order to maintain the audience’s interest through a Shakespearean production and this seemed lacking in other roles; Amy Clarke as Viola was one such case.
Tim Fordyce, a charismatic Sir Toby Belch proves that you don’t have to be sober to hold a true course, adding, as he does, a slosh of experience to the young cast. Alexander Gordon Wood as Malvolio bubbled away in his Scottish brogue, and succeeded in being utterly pitiful.

Sell a Door’s first venture into the land of Shakespeare is patchy. However, there are moments here that presage greater things to come. In the next outing, we look forward to a more consistent tone and a little more faith placed in the Old Master.



Box Office: 020 8858 9256

Greenwich Playhouse
Greenwich Station Forecourt
189 Greenwich High Road
London SE10 8JA

Tickets £12




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