Tearing Shakespeare from his Elizabethan context to recent modern history is not for
the faint-hearted. Anomalies exist in the text to trip up such mavericks, but Bob Eaton
manages to avoid the obvious traps of straying too far from home, while still injecting
humour, wit and passion into this much loved play.
Cathy Ryans evocative and economic set places the play firmly in the late
sixties. This heady era of music, love and madness turned the world upside down; suddenly
youth culture prevailed against the bowler-hatted, pin-striped existence of the
establishment. Twelfth Night is heavily dependent on a spot of gender-bendering from Viola
(Katy Stephens), so the sixties backdrop, when much of the older generation complained
that You cant tell the girls from the boys makes ultimate sense.
The famous opening speech If music be the food of love, sung by Jeremy
Harrisons excellent Duke Orsino is given new meaning, when the character is
represented as the trippy, hippie leader of a mythical band called The Dukes of
Old favourites, Sir Toby Belch (Eddy York) and Sir Andrew Aguecheeck, hilariously
played by Graham Fellows, are depicted as the Carnaby Street clad, marijuana smokers of
the foppishly rich Chelsea set. Feste, the multi-talented John Wild, is a guitar strumming
hippy, flitting between impersonations of Russ Abbot, Rigsby in Rising Damp to
a brilliant Tommy Cooper. All three characters drive the humour and fun of the play beyond
all previously set limits to stunning effect. Who would have thought that Peter Cooke and
Dudley Moores theme tune Goodbyee could sit perfectly in Shakespearean
Malvolios come-uppance is wonderfully achieved with the help of a pair of yellow
velvet loon pants and a convincing impersonation of Mick Jagger.
The narrative was clear and direct throughout this heady mix of mistaken identity and
unrequited love. The excellent cast swap easily back and forth between singing and playing
a variety of instruments in the band, acting and inventing a host of sundry comic
characters. The costumes and lighting are a colourful feast for the eyes.
Why pay for the over-priced, often dubious offerings of the Royal Shakespeare Company,
who seek to keep our most famous playwright in permanent moth-balls, when a trip to the
Belgrade offers such an excellently accessible nights entertainment. Go on, enjoy
yourself and take a trip!