Review: Twelfth Night @ Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester

Jo Davies’ fervently witty production of Twelfth Night at Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre will leave you with throbbing cheeks after an evening of smiling and laughter.

Twelfth Night is one of Shakespeare’s more famous comedies; it takes place in Illyria and centres on the twins Viola and Sebastian, who are separated in a shipwreck and confused for one another throughout the play.

The character with the lion’s share of stage time is Feste, the fool of Olivia’s household, a share Kate O’Donnell more than rightly earns with her jovial yet Machiavellian stage presence.

During the intermission Kate chats with members of the audience and ingeniously recites amusing summaries of the conversations upon the introduction of the second half of the play.

COMEDY: The play is one of Shakespeare’s funniest

The equally comical character, Sir Andrew Aguecheek, is played to perfection by Harry Attwell who bounds onto the stage to meet his dear friend, and uncle to Olivia, Sir Toby Belch, played by Simon Armstrong.

The two discuss various topics as the actors adeptly showcase the contrast between Sir Toby’s sharp, albeit intoxicated, wit and Sir Andrew’s endearing, boyish stupidity as the latter leaps and bounds over his own suitcase to the amusement of them both.

Kate Kennedy showcases her superb reactive acting in her role as Olivia; she strikes provocative poses after falling over in pursuit of Cesario, and is compellingly elated upon discovering there are two identical versions of the man she wishes to marry.

The character Viola dons the male alter-ego Cesario for the majority of the play and Faith Omole makes the transition appear almost effortless, convincing both fellow characters and audience alike of her newfound gender.

The music appropriately compliments the acting in each scene and sets an ambiguous geographical tone.

The musical director, Tarek Merchant, said his influences range from Madness’ off-beat bass and brash guitar to Antony and the Johnsons’ plaintive and melancholic vocal sound, all combined with traditional Balkan folk music.

An example of the plaintive and melancholic is conveyed by Joseph Gravil, who picks the stings of an acoustic guitar gently and dextrously over Cesario’s first expression of love to Duke Orsino.

The characters’ costumes are modern yet classy; the stand out designs being Feste’s shimmering dress at the drunken get together, Malvolio’s full-body fluorescent yellow cycling gear, and Sir Andrew’s amateur boxing attire complete with gold-trimmed ring entrance robe.

LAUGHTER: The production will leave your cheeks throbbing

The set is boldly put together; rain falls physically from the ceiling onto the heads of characters during dramatic outdoor scenes, tables are lifted from the ground for characters to lean on, and in one instance for Malvolio to pose seductively on.

The coup de grace is the jail cell constructed for Malvolio’s prison scene which untangles itself from the ceiling and wraps itself around its victim in a surprisingly unique use of stage engineering.

The props include: Malvolio’s folding bicycle which he unpredictably rides onto the stage whilst seeking out Cesario, the hand cream Malvolio squirts through the air whilst reading a false letter that his master Olivia has feelings of love for him, and the electric guitar and amp Sir Toby rocks out on to kick-start a tremendously mad house party.

Jo Davies’ rendition of Twelfth Night is fun, humorous and brave; the audience are engaged from start to finish, and when they aren’t laughing, they are having their heart strings tugged by the incredible acting, creative musical style and immersive set design.

All in all, this production is a must see for Shakespeare and non-Shakespeare fans alike.

*Twelfth Night is running at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester until Saturday, May 20. You can buy tickets HERE.

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