Saturday, 19 June 2021

Our Bill must be turning in his grave

MALVOLIO is writhing on the floor in gold lamé briefs to a blaring drum-and-bass riff, Olivia is screeching orgasmically into a microphone behind him. Welcome to Twelfth Night as it tries to get down with the kids.

Filter Theatre collaborated with the Royal Shakespeare Company to create this 90-minute stripped-down, rocked-up version of the play and it’s clear they threw out the rule book before they opened a page of the original.

Their stated aim is to bring highlights of the play out and they more or less do that, halving the original’s duration in the process. They then dress it up in a style that maybe only a modern teenager will understand.

This production never stands still: it clowns, gets sexy and delivers music all in tiny bite-sized bits, much as you imagine modern yoofs get knowledge from the web — unstructured and rudderless. It starts speeches and applies weird sound effects as they progress. It has drones going on in the background sometimes, and then, halfway through, they abandon the story completely and stage a 10 minute audience interaction which involves throwing soft foam balls for the cast to catch.

I can’t see any way someone not already familiar with the play could understand what was happening. And even if you are familiar you’re left stranded a good deal of the time. I’m not sure someone like me was meant to get it, but I wonder if anyone did? If it did connect with the many schoolchildren in the audience then that has to be welcomed, but while the Bard can be incredibly resilient to directors messing about with his stuff, you can’t help wondering if this would have tested his patience.

Twelfth Night
Oxford Playhouse
Tuesday, January 21
Continues to Saturday. Tickets: 01865 305305.

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