A modern take on Twelfth Night has Aref Omar basking in the virtual sun, sea and comedy in a park
AFTER last year’s well-received staging of the solemn tragedy that was Macbeth, the Singapore Repertory Theatre (SRT) let its creative hair down with mirth and merrymaking with the evergreen comedy, Twelfth Night.
As part of SRT’s fifth annual Shakespeare in the Park series, the evening staging saw clear weather with slivers of breeze blowing on couples, families and groups of friends lounged on mats peppered along the grassy sloping field of Fort Canning Park in Singapore.
Amid the open sky and lush greenery, some in the audience brought cushions while others rested against each other, drink in hand and munchies close by, with the odd squeal from children during the more outwardly humorous moments of the Bard’s classic tale of mistaken identity.
Viola, a young survivor of a shipwreck, who, thinking her twin brother dead, disguises herself as a man named Cesario to work as a page for Orsino, the Duke of Illyria.
Orsino pines for the love of Lady Olivia but when he sends Cesario to deliver his heated confessions of love, she in turn falls head over heels for the page instead. Then Viola eventually falls for Orsino and in the end everyone lives happily ever after, well almost.
Everyone knows the story but this production directed by Bruce Guthrie, who was associate director of Kevin Spacey’s Richard III during the final year of the Bridge Project staging in 2011, was set in an Illyria that looked more like an updated version of a 1950s seaside resort.
From the retro chic sharp suits, elegant frocks and casual beachwear to the various jazzy tunes sung by Feste, it was a contemporary feast for the eyes.
The Shakespearean dialogue stayed intact for the most part though. Accentuating this rendition was the unique stage set, featuring a circular design that slid down in an incline towards the audience, which creatively encapsulated the farcical events and dramatic action.
To the left was a beach set with an island bar shack, in the middle a mid-sized sail boat with the sea in the background and the facade of a grand villa towards the right. Coupled with good lighting and subtle sound design, the new world of Twelfth Night was beautifully rendered.
As for the actors, they conveyed their character’s expressions and body language with the right intensity, while delivering the language with clarity and good rhythm.
Adrian Pang was a riot as Feste, the jester who waxed eloquently with glee, making sure that the audience was entertained at every turn or squeeze of his strategically positioned horn.
Rebecca Spykerman (Viola), Seong Hui Xuan (Olivia) and Shane Mardjuki (Orsino) carried the show with their capable depictions of a tacit love triangle that lead to more comic moments.
And even more comedic mayhem came from Neil McCaul, as the happy-go-lucky Sir Toby, who with the help of others, hatched a plan to get back at Daniel Jenkins’ Malvolio, the stuffy kill-joy steward of Olivia’s household. Both were a
joy to watch and seemed to naturally possess astute comedic timing.
It was also a hoot to see this play’s interpretation of Malvolio being bound and locked in a small dark room (watch it and find out).
Although at three hours long, typical for a Shakespeare play, it moved at a brisk pace and scene changes were seamless. And the sets and visuals were stimulating without distracting, rather augmenting the action and dialogue unfolding onstage.
Purists might scoff at certain aspects that give the play a more retro feel. But Guthrie and the production team deserve much praise in making this rendition of Twelfth Night a thoroughly entertaining and engaging affair under the glorious moonlit sky.
Aside from the Bard’s interesting wordplay, it was the memorable images and Feste’s swinging tunes that kept me company on my way back well after the curtain call.
After all, “if music be the food of love, play on”.