Full disclosure: I have no understanding of Shakespeare. My knowledge extends as far as a Baz Luhrmann movie. But that wasn’t why I was lost for words during Monash Shakespeare Company’s Twelfth Night. The nature of this play, combined with the excellent direction of Loughlin Turpin and Jessica McLaughlin Cafferty, makes this show accessible for even those most illiterate to the Bard.
Twelfth Night follows twins Viola and Sebastian, as they are shipwrecked and separated in Illyria. Alone and forced to fend for herself, Viola disguises herself as a eunuch to work in the house of nobleman Orsino. She dresses in Sebastian’s image as an homage to the brother she thinks she has lost. Impressed by the feminine insight of his new servant, Orsino sends Cesario (Viola) to express his love for Lady Olivia. Hilarity ensues when her costume proves too cunning, and (spoilers), Sebastian is still alive, in Illyria.
The set is beautiful. Every inch of the space is well-used, and the transitions are graceful and well orchestrated. The opening scene is incredible, and that alone is worth the admission. Without giving anything away, it is obvious how talented and committed Sophie Jevons and Emily O’Connor are to their performance.
To credit every character for each amazing moment would take far too long and give away far too much. But a couple of special mentions need to be given to Nick Madders (Malvolio) and Angus Atwood (Aguecheek) for their amazing style, Felicity Steel for choreography of the fight scenes, and Ella Motteram for making Sir Toby such a memorable man.
The visual comedy really sells this piece. Shakespeare can be difficult to understand without studying his writing extensively. Thankfully, in this performance, the dialogue is well-complemented by the events around it. Slapstick comedy is hard to do well without seeming cheesy or unnecessary. But Twelfth Night is an exception, and the cringe-worthy moments only add to the hilarity of this play.
Co-directors Loughlin and Jess have made something wonderful. The set and space are fantastic, the characters very well cast, and I am more than a little pleased by the choice to perform in bare feet. Jess has clearly taken much from her previous role as assistant director in the sold out Romeo & Juliet, presented by Monash Shakespeare Company earlier this year. This is Loughlin’s debut to directing, but seems quite at home in the role.
The enjoyment of the actors and cast really shines through in this piece. It’s impossible not to crack a smile when you catch a subtle, unrestrained smirk or chuckle, and Loughlin may have laughed the loudest during opening night. It is truly a credit that after eight weeks of rehearsal, the show is still as fresh and funny to them as it is to a new audience.
Twelfth Night needs to be seen to be appreciated. The relevance and context of Shakespeare’s humour can often be lost in language, but this interpretation gives a new perspective and invites you to delve deeper into the world and work of the Bard.