The trouble with tackling a Shakespeare play is that every audience member is going to come to see your production with a very specific idea of how they think it should be done – the ‘proper’ way. These plays have been interpreted and reinterpreted so many times that thinking of something that hasn’t been done before seems near impossible. And then, of course, many audience members prefer you not to reinterpret the play at all and are only looking to see very traditional versions of Shakespeare’s masterpieces.
So of course, any theatre company attempting Shakespeare is always trying to strike this balance – between modern-day and Shakespearian styles, between their own interpretations of characters and more traditional ones.
This year’s Oxford University Drama Society (OUDS) production of Twelfth Night strikes the balance absolutely perfectly. Under Max Gill’s meticulous direction, the play seems to have taken a completely new form and yet remained applicable to as wide an audience as it could hope to. As this year’s production for the annual International tour across Japan and the UK (in association with Thelma Holt and The Cameron Mackintosh Foundation), this universality is particularly key. It will enable very different audiences to not only empathise with the play but be extremely moved by it.
Music is used as a huge part of the eclectic style of this production. Composer Joseph Currie explains how he and Max worked closely to choose motifs and pieces that are specific to the psychological state of each character at different points in the play. This provocative idea could perhaps have been brought out even more explicitly. Needless to say, the two opera singers accompanied by harp and harpsichord are stunning compliments to this beautiful and bizarre portrayal of the land of Illyria. The eccentricities of this almost magical land are emphasised by the various original elements of the OUDS production to create a dream-like environment full of potentially mad characters.
The play is also visually stunning with what promises to be a static but striking set and gorgeous costumes on loan from the Royal Shakespeare Company. Flora Zackon steals the show with her slightly unorthodox portrayal of Olivia, and looks phenomenal in an extravagant dress that was previously on display. Malvolio, while potentially being one of Shakespeare’s most difficult and interesting comedic characters, is tackled with grace and outstanding humour by Jordan Waller. Georgina Hellier creates a wonderfully charming and cheeky Maria, while Peter Huhne’s Sir Andrew is an unexpected comedic gem. The overall hilarity of this particular production is down to impeccable casting and probably some of the highest class student acting in the UK.
Without a weak link in the cast and a director with a remarkably clever and beautiful vision, there is no reason to miss this exceptional production; it really is a dream.
Twelfth Night comes to Oxford from 12th to 14th August