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Twelfth Night | Shakespeare North Playhouse

It can be a major challenge for any theatre director when approaching Shakespeare’s comedies to bridge the gap between the traditional and the contemporary. This new production of Twelfth Night, directed by up and coming talent Jimmy Fairhurst, provides wonderful humour and wit, honouring the original script of the great bard whilst making the material accessible to the modern audience, but more importantly dishing out consistent laughs, which in and of itself must be commended.

Fairhurst sets the action during music festival season, calling on and utilising his own experience as a rock band tour manager to devise a unique, innovative take on the original tale, and it is handled quite brilliantly.  The story centres around twin siblings Viola and Sebastian, and their respective brushes with death in the aftermath of a shipwreck (reimagined as drug overdoses following a rock gig), as each one believes the other to have perished; the former of the two disguises herself as a male eunuch, named Cesario, and is employed as a servant to the duke Orsino. The second act plays host to a classic case of mistaken identity, during which hilarity ensues for a rip roaring final sequence.

This is all performed wonderfully by the entire company, with particular standouts including Georgia Frost. Steadfast and witty as Viola, with her take on the character quashing her anguish at the suspected loss of her brother, until it comes to a head as she gives us a strong, thoroughly deserved sense of catharsis in the climax. Les Dennis is truly hilarious as he displays his best comic acting as butler/tour manager Malvolio, delighting as the perpetual butt of the joke throughout.

It was Louise Haggerty, however, who stole the show playing Feste, the jester/fool to Olivia, who acts in part as master of ceremonies. Haggerty gives us some brilliant pre-show patter to get the audience in the right frame of mind, as if she were getting the crowd pumped for a rock gig; subsequent appearances continue in the same vein, with crowd interaction, audience participation and fourth wall breaks that helped transport us to a summer music festival setting. Her take on the character is sarcastic, yet playful, and always with a great deal of gusto.

On top of some top notch acting though, there were a whole host of terrific musical performances, with Frost and Tom Sturgess in particular notable for their strong vocals and impressive instrumental abilities, working especially well together in the opening number. We are also treated to a sensational solo number by Purvi Parmar as Olivia, with her potent pipes leaving us baffled that she hasn’t done more musical theatre in her time. The music itself, though not important to the narrative, did well to act as a linking mechanism between scenes for the most part.

The most impressive aspect of all the performances though was the freedom afforded to the cast to incorporate ad libbing, which is not only handled remarkably well, but helped contextualise much of the comic material; Shakespeare’s comedy can prove an acquired taste to many, so to be able to make an audience universally laugh out loud for any company is the biggest testament to the collective talent on display.

The simplicity of the set design lent itself well to the setting, with more terrific creative output from Good Teeth, combined with stunning lighting design from Benny Goodman, proving that less can indeed be more. When done well, minimalistic design elements can be massively transformative, so the design team all around deserve huge plaudits. In order to survive, any take on the works of Shakespeare must be willing to make adaptations to appeal to a wider audience, whilst also respecting his original text, and this new interpretation certainly ticks all the boxes; music is indeed the food of love, and one must say “play on”.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (4*)

Gifted tickets in return for an honest review | photography by Patch Dolan


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