REVIEW: Twelfth Night
Presented by Bell Shakespeare
Reviewed by Eugene Kwag
The Christmas spirit swept in early towards Sydney through Bell Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. The national tour is currently wrapping up at home at the Sydney Opera House in Gadigal Country. The tour in Sydney runs through from the 24th October to the 19th of November. I was fortunate enough to attend the show on the 31st of October.
Bell Shakespeare’s firm belief that the works of Shakespeare and other great works are not stuck in the past, ensures a powerful sense of identity as questions of the present are raised, along with the imagination of the future. Heather Fairbairn’s Twelfth Night brought a refreshing perspective to the beloved comedy through her 10-person play that delved into the central theme: expression of gender and sexuality in its different ways and overcoming the prominent boundaries of featuring an all-male cast as seen in early productions. This was achieved through the masterful movement of the artists, the multiple musical numbers of Feste the Fool and the inversion of genders between the actors portraying Viola and Sebastian.
A brief synopsis of Twelfth Night: A young woman, Viola washes up on a shore believing her brother Sebastian has drowned at sea. She immerses herself within the world of Illyria between the conflict of one Countess Olivia and Cesario. From there, all madness breaks loose, and we learn that everyone desires some form of love, but in that pursuit, some are left broken. Jane Montgomery Griffith’s Malvolia, Amy Hack’s Maria and Tomáš Kantor’s Feste were standout performances. The trio played a pivotal part in carrying the message of the play.
The Actors and Creative Team – Director (Heather Fairbairn), Set & Costume Designer (Charles Davis) and Lighting Designer (Verity Hampson), Composer (Sarah Blasko), Sound Designer (David Bergman), Sound Associate (Daniel Herten), Choreographer (Elle Evangelista) and Voice Coach (Jack Starkey-Gill) outstanding work enabled audiences to experience engaging transitions, to watch in comfort and provide a sense of anticipatory excitement and spontaneity throughout the performance.
The highlight of the show for me was undoubtedly the teamwork of Jane Montgomery Griffith’s Malvolia and Director Heather Fairbairn. They were able to successfully develop the character arc of Malvolia beyond one of comedic relief, instead choosing to shed light upon the deep sorrow that one felt when watching the betrayal and trickery upon the shunned Malvolia. Furthermore, the play highlighted the power difference between women and men of the time. The themes of sexual harassment that were explored between Keith Agius’ Toby Belch and Montgomery’s Malvolia brought a sense of unease upon the audience whilst simultaneously being brought into light through the compelling music of composer Blasko. It provided a deeper message and the struggles faced by the most unlikely characters, encouraging the audience to dive beyond the depths of amusement towards the deeper conflict faced by the characters.
I would like to compliment the work of choreographer Elle Evangelista who was able to successfully combine the genius use of the gigantic tree trunk prop that was used on numerous occasions (details you’ll have to watch to find out!) and the application of the beautiful piano that was moved around one too many times. The play ultimately captured the utmost joys and heartbreak in this both hilarious and deeply moving piece of art.
Overall, Twelfth Night is a play that opens itself up to the audience’s interpretation. It raises different questions within each audience member and certainly brings up lots of different emotions - immersing us in the chaos of humanity.
Twelfth Night is playing at the Sydney Opera House until 19 November 2023. Tickets can be purchased here.
Production images by Brett Boardman