Theatre company OVO whisks us through this outrageously funny play in just over 90 minutes, complete with a live jazz band and pop tunes by the likes of Rihanna, Radiohead, Britney Spears, and more. It might have seemed a little fast for Shakespeare, but I personally loved the pace, and they kept a lot of the original text with adjustments only made to fit the length. The songs created great breaks in the action, and whilst this may not have been the right play for diehard fans of the Bard, it was perfect for anyone who wants to ease themselves into Shakespeare, or doesn’t usually enjoy it so much.
Set on a cruise liner in the 20s, the stage design was simple yet fabulous. The small upper section of the Rose Playhouse was used for the entire play, with the audience seated amongst all the action. It aptly mimicked the deck of the SS Illyria, so I applaud Simon Nicholas for an incredibly clever use of the space. The jazz band performed in amongst us, sometimes at the back and sometimes in the middle on the stage, making the feel like a really immersive experience.
I have never seen such an imaginative interpretation of a play, and I never would have guessed it would work. The cast were excellent, many of them also playing instruments. Feste, played by Hannah Francis-Baker definitely stood out to me, aside from acting and playing the trumpet, her stage presence and liveliness whilst singing (probably the best voice out of the cast) really pushed the show forward. Viola, played by Lucy Crick, was also wonderful in her role, though I must admit I was less taken with her singing; perhaps it was because her voice wasn’t as suited to the style of music. The rest of the cast were also hilarious, in particular Sir Andrew, played by James Douglas. Faith Turner as a female version of Malvolio, here dubbed Malvolia, was also a stand out performance as the snooty, disapproving right-hand woman to Olivia. She ends the play singing a beautiful song, giving the ending a bit of a sad, unexpected twist which I’d never seen before.
One of my only qualms would be that some songs didn’t fit with the storyline. Whilst it was lovely to hear fun jazz renditions of catchy songs that we all knew the words to, from classics like Creep by Radiohead, to chart hits from Jason Derulo, a few of them just didn’t feel like they made sense in the context of the play. On the other hand, presumably not everyone was paying as much unrequired attention to the lyrics as I was, but rather just enjoying the live music!
This is definitely the play to see if you’re looking for a very inventive and original version of a classic play, be that because you want to get into Shakespeare but don’t know where to start, or you just enjoy quirky small productions by groups of talented underrated people.
- 4 stars