Review By Lisa Lanzi
How appropriate that I should attend Shakespeare South Australia’s Twelfth Night on January 5th, the twelfth night of Christmas (or the eve of the Epiphany), with its tradition of attendant revelry, overturning of convention and general merriment… ok, there are some arguments as to whether twelfth night be the 5th or the 6th of January but for the sake of ‘romance’ and this review I’ll go with the 5th.
Relatively new company Shakespeare South Australia has staged this comedy for a welcome second run in the grounds of Carrick Hill, an historic house and garden known for its major art collections, after the first iteration ran at the Adelaide Botanic Gardens late last year. And a polished, spirited, entertaining and well-paced production it is!
Shakespeare South Australia was founded in 2021 by Adelaide-born Alys Daroy, a highly competent performer, academic and researcher who has vast international experience; she is also the producer and Artistic Director of the show. The company is dedicated to environmental resilience and is part of the worldwide Eco-theatre movement. With exemplary aims to make theatrical production more environmentally sustainable, the company will present productions with minimal sets and technological intervention, upcycled or hired costumes and props, and use of local suppliers. The company is a member of EarthShakes Alliance - a world-first initiative to unite Shakespeare companies dedicated to putting environmental aims at the heart of their practice.
Co-directors of Twelfth Night Britt Plummer and Jess Clough-Macrae have produced an exceptional and elemental production where text, physicality and energy are key to the story and subsequently, the audience’s appreciation and perception of the whole. It is also a delight to enter into the spirit of the fundamental seventeenth century Globe atmosphere with some encouraged, gentle audience interaction. Set outdoors in the luscious grounds of Carrick Hill, the liveliness of the ensemble is also vital to the success of this work. Any performance played outdoors provides extra challenges for performers, particularly when no amplification is used. All involved with this production are to be congratulated on its success and cohesiveness and the way the setting enhanced the narrative.
As with so many of Shakespeare’s comedies, Twelfth Night contains wordplay, irony, disguise, identity confusion, and happy endings. The ensemble and directors have elevated the action and the interactions which in lesser hands could be tiresome or simply un-funny. Here, the audience were laughing loudly and entering into the spirit of the work, gleefully suspending disbelief as required; because, of course, a woman shipwrecked and foundering on the shore of another country (Illyria) would immediately decide to impersonate a male and serve a nobleman to ensure her survival. There are also many recognisable quotes in this text to entertain such as : “… if music be the food of love, play on …” and “… Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them.” You could almost hear members of the audience echoing the famous words.
The entire cast were impeccable in their characterisations and their palpable camaraderie and connection added even more spark to the action. The women of Twelfth Night were Alys Daroy as Olivia, Melanie Munt as Viola, Michaela Burger as Feste (and Musical Director/composer), Kate van der Horst as Maria (pronounced Mariah as befits 17th Century parlance), and Britt Plummer as a gender-shifted Antonio alluding to famous female pirates of history who dressed as men. The male roles comprised Shedrick Yarkpai as Orsino, Michael Baldwin as Malvolio, Paul Westbrook as Sir Toby Belch and David Daradan taking on both Sir Andrew Aguecheek and Sebastian. Stunning live music greeted us upon arrival and at interval by lutist James Logan and both Baldwin and Burger contributed instrumental accompaniment during the play. I would love to know the total ‘step count’ for each performance as every actor covered A LOT of ground. The audience were often shifting focus for various scenes and entrances which further enhanced the momentum of the play and used the setting beautifully.
In addition to the tight direction and captivating acting it was the effective and pertinent physical choreography from Britt Plummer, Jess Clough Mac-Rae and Sam Dugmore (and input I’m sure from individual actors) that added dimension to both characterisation and relationships. Playful and entertaining, the movement was integral to establishing the world of these characters so that their larger-than-life personas became something more than merely cartoonish.
I look forward to future productions from Shakespeare South Australia where ‘simple’ and ‘unadorned’ means that story and character can shine without being overwhelmed by technology or cumbersome props. There is obviously a hunger for such here in Adelaide as this season is close to sold out, as was the earlier season.