“One of the most exciting and
accessible Shakespeare productions of recent years,” claim the
programme notes of this RSC/Filter co-production, first seen at the
Cube in Stratford-upon-Avon in 2006. It certainly is exciting to see
the six actors and four musicians (for what little that distinction is
worth here) engage in Filter’s trademark of creating environments out
of sound rather than space or décor. The opening number which
prompts Orsino’s remark, “If music be the food of love, play on” is
cool jazz; the self-satisfied steward Malvolio’s fantasy about being
Count Malvolio is accompanied by a heavy, King Crimsonoid groove; the
closing “Hey ho, the wind and the rain” song becomes an ebullient ska
Elsewhere, soundscapes are created with bass, drums, microphones, an
old analogue synthesizer and what appear to be wireless games-console
handsets triggering audio samples on laptop computers. The storm that
shipwrecks Viola is heralded by a shipping forecast warning of gales in
“Viking, North Utsire, South Utsire, Illyria...” and later the
sea-captain’s part of the dialogue with Viola comes out of the
transistor radio in the same voice.
Nor is it just sound that is generated off the cuff: when Viola decides
to disguise herself as a young man, actress Poppy Miller cadges a
jacket and hat from members of the audience. Other punters are
prevailed upon to dance and sing along with actors, particularly during
a prolonged drunken-catch sequence which builds gradually from a
reflective whisper to a gloriously pissed racket, and even to join
Oliver Dimsdale’s Sir Toby Belch in downing tequila slammers.
Accessible, though, is another matter. Whilst its 85 minutes are packed
with delights, I’m not sure it scores that high on comprehensibility.
Having Miller double as both Viola and her brother Sebastian, and then
cutting back the latter role to the bare minimum before a climax which
reunites the pair, will only ever result in a mess which relies
entirely on the audience’s indulgence and prior knowledge of the play.
Jonathan Broadbent likewise turns repeatedly on a sixpence between
Orsino and Andrew Aguecheek, and Gemma Saunders is stripped of much of
the material which makes Feste the most complex fool in Shakespeare.
What’s the point of introducing people to the joys of the play if what
they’re offered to enjoy isn’t actually the play?
Written for the Financial