The Post-Truth Theatre Company’s production of Twelfth Night is a zany and energetic reimagining of Shakespeare’s play. It is not just a modernisation but a transportation, too; Shakespeare’s Illyria is no longer a romantic Mediterranean locale but a seedy nightclub. The audience is immediately confronted with this fact as we walk through the doors of the Keble O’Reilly: our hands are stamped, and we find our seats with the help of a flashing neon sign labelled ‘bar’.
It is such details that redeem Twelfth Night from the fate that befalls so many modernisations of Shakespeare; that is, the perfunctory gestures to modernity are soon forgotten, and only Shakespeare remains. By choosing to truncate the play, and by placing a greater emphasis on staging, props and music than would be found in more conservative productions, director Alice Taylor should be applauded for attempting to bring originality to such a canonical text.
Of course, this stylishly modern production would be nothing but theatrical eye-candy unless it cast a new, fluorescent light on the gender-bending intricacies of Shakespeare’s original, and were it not propped up by acting talent capable of handling the mixture of humour and subtle pathos that this play demands. Thankfully, it succeeds on both counts. Tom Fisher as Orsino and Chloe Taylor as Viola both turn in strong performances; Fisher is particularly impressive in his capable switching between haughtiness, desperation and matey camaraderie. As is customary in such Shakespearean comedies, however, it is the more minor characters who deliver the biggest laughs, with Jon Berry as a spectacularly bling, Las Vegas style ‘priest’ being especially memorable.
Best of all, however, is Robin Ferguson’s Malvolio, a performance as affecting as it is funny, and whose public shaming provides the production with its richest commentary on contemporary society; a classic case of Shakespearean mistaken identity acquires a sinister degree of permanence from the flashing smartphones of the onlookers, recording this once temporary humiliation for an undefined and unknowable posterity.
If this suggests Twelfth Night as a somewhat dystopian production, rest assured: whilst these elements are undoubtedly there, they are wisely kept in the background. The one possible criticism would be the lack of chemistry between some of the romantic leads, which leads a play already light on realism beyond the verges of believability. However, it feels churlish to say this – this is an ambitious production which nevertheless retains a spirit of amateurish good-humour which befits its subject. Go and see it – it’s rare to see a student production shine this bright. And it can’t just be the Day-Glo wristbands.