You’ll be forgiven for feeling like you’re seeing double with the recent outings from The Bard at Hurtwood. Last Summer, we had Stephen Smith’s equally excellent interpretation of ‘Comedy of Errors’, which boasted no fewer than two sets of identical twins (read the Muse review here). This Christmas, it’s time for ‘Twelfth Night’, Shakespeare’s Christmas romp written to mark the feast of the epiphany, and what a feast it was! Shaina Taub’s soulful adaptation is gleefully energetic, and fits with the intentions behind Shakespeare’s comedies. These are not grandstanding plays, they are designed to be fun. With the palazzos of Illyria forming a warm counterpoint to the plunging December temperatures outside the theatre, watching this colourful, expertly choreographed caper was like slipping into a warm bath, or, in this instance, a warm fountain.
Like ‘Errors’, ‘Twelfth Night’ opens with a splash (a tempest, actually), wherein Viola loses her twin Sebastian, makes landfall, dresses as a boy and starts to work for Duke Orsino, quickly falling in love with him. But – shock horror! - Orsino is in love with the Countess Olivia, so sends Viola to Olivia with messages of love and longing, but Olivia falls for Viola instead. Still with me? As though that wasn’t enough, twin brother Sebastian arrives, causing endless amounts of mistaken identity mayhem. There’s a big gender reveal at the end, and lots of happy marriages. And dancing. LOTS of dancing. Phew!
As with ‘Errors’, you’ll be forgiven for not being totally up to speed with the narrative. I spoke to Stephen about this exact problem in Shakespeare whilst queuing for our seats to see ‘Twelfth Night’, and he said: ‘The problem with Shakespeare is that he throws so much story down in the first scene, you can spend the rest of Act 1 catching up’. Never ones to shy away from such a challenge, Doug and Andy move us deftly through the narrative twists and turns – the turns perhaps being deliberately emphasised through Hurtwood’s first ever rotating stage, Doug notes proudly. Any anxiety about the direction of the story is quickly replaced by anxiety about the direction of the actors’ feet whilst they blithely trot along the narrow circular ledge of the rotating platform. But, my goodness, they trot with style. This is a very sharply choreographed production, ably marshalled in his last ever stint for Hurtwood, by Neil Fisher. The tap routines run almost continuously throughout, with dancers spinning, lifting and leg-kicking from beginning to end.
The dancing isn’t the only way that the world of ‘Twelfth Night’ moves and shakes. We have some fantastic physical acting from the pot-belled, Wooster-inspired Sir Toby Belch, as he stumbles across the stage, falls into the fountain, and gets lifted out by his armpits more than once. Sir Andrew whimpers and cowers, the Countess sashays, the laid-back taverna owner Feste (a modern rendition of the Elizabethan clown) capers and sings with gusto, and the buttoned-up butler Malvolio walks only in right angles. A Rocky-style montage marks the climactic action in the lovers’ tiff between Viola and Sir Andrew, with all the archetypes of male machismo ironically taking the stage. Amidst the frolics, there are messages that are surprisingly on-point: ‘Is it because I’ve put on a pair of pants?’ / ‘I’m more myself now that I’m not myself’ – this is Shakespeare through the lens of gender identity.
It is with Malvolio that much of the sheer absurd joy of the play resides. The high-kicking megalomaniac even gets his own fireworks display after the prank that sees him take a forged love letter to heart – the letter which leads to probably the funniest moment in the whole of Shakespeare, with the famous yellow stockings. Things take a sinister turn for poor MALvolio, however, and he spends most of the second half chained up as a lunatic in the green, smoky jaws of hell. Even when this production is at its darkest, it’s still a lot of fun, as Feste says, ‘No pains, sir. I take pleasure in it.’ And it was a pleasure indeed! It’s always a joy to see such professionalism, such wild talent on display at Hurtwood. Bring on the next play, we say!
We asked some of the students involved to write about their experiences. If you’d like to add yours, get in touch with Muse!
'Hurtwood shows are just on another scale. Forget school show, this is completely different. I’ve found that although being a lead comes with great responsibility, it comes with great joy and excitement, too. I’ve completely adored working with everyone involved in this show and appreciate the upmost hard work that has gone into this project.'
When I joined Hurtwood, people warned me that the Musical isn’t like any other school show, and they were right. It’s an experience you can’t quite imagine until you’re immersed in it. Even now I struggle to describe it though the closest synonyms are probably energetic, thrilling and exhausting. There was of course a bit of fear at first, but it subsided within the first few minutes of rehearsal (once we got used to Nick’s sarcasm). Rehearsals were long hours and required endless amounts of energy, yet I still came home every evening with a beaming smile and a need to show my mum all of Lottie and Neil’s choreography. In fact, it was in the rehearsals where I laughed the most and made the closest friends, not to mention learned so much from the immensely talented A2s, who not only carried the show but welcomed us into their crazy theatre cult. The experience got even better when we saw Al’s set and Guy’s lighting designs bring our show to life. And we had beautiful, vibrant costumes created by Elizabeth, who may I add has dealt with our quick changes, broken zips, and smelly socks while being eight months pregnant. Now though it sounds perfect, there have been dramas involving concussions, harmonies and understudies.
As I write this, we’re in the middle of the ten-day run and looking back I’ve realised we’ve been stretched and shaped into real professional performers by the creative team whether it’s through Nick’s precision and genius, Andy’s mad creativity or Doug’s care and direction. There’s a huge sense of pride for this show – the effort has paid off. It’s been a genuine pleasure to work so closely with a company as supportive as this one, and though I'll be sad when it’s over, I'm grateful for the tears, sweat and laughter and can’t wait for whatever madness awaits us next term. All that’s left to say is “Play on!”
Comments from backstage:
Leena (on mics): ‘We loved the audiences! They were so supportive!’
Olivia (on costume changes): ‘I zipped a lot of people. I unzipped a lot of people.’