Twelfth Night, The French Protestant Church

Shakespeare productions in churches are similar to those at the Globe: the ornateness of the environment is a set in itself that gives the show grandeur and importance. Scena Mundi’s Twelfth Night attempts to emphasise these aspects by drawing on the fashion world, Elizabethan beauty and pagentry with rich costumes and self-indulgence, performed in a small Soho church. With some good performances and a gorgeous setting, this production has some great things going for it. On the other hand, some mediocre performances, a set element that clashes with the world of the court and at two and a half hours long with varying pace in uncomfortable pews, it also has some issues. 

Harriet Hare excels as Viola, focuses on the gentleness and wit of the vulnerable young woman disguised as a boy. Her love for Orsino (Pip Brignall) is sweetly believable, as is her fear of fighting and being found out. The attempts to genuinely disguise her as a man were minimal, though – trousers and a ponytail does not a man make, especially without any alterations to voice or posture. Martin Prest’s Malvolio matches Hare in ability, and is the only character to induce regular laughter. His dour expressions and posing in yellow stockings contrast well, as do his strops – a wonderfully versatile performance. The rest of the cast vary in energy, ranging from competent to disinterested – a choice by director Cecilia Dorland in line with her high fashion concept, but one that doesn’t translate to interesting or dynamic performances.

On that note, the incorporation of the haute couture world is otherwise unclear and minimal. A bright blue, vinyl catwalk runs from the stage down the centre aisle of the church, clashing with the colours in the building and costumes, which were generally period style. Narcissism and vanity are given in the script anyway, and adding stereotypical vocal affectation to some of the characters isn’t much of an influence. The costumes are simple with some sumptuous colours, but not high fashion or a particularly dominant feature of the production. Dorland largely focuses on the text and uses lighting to highlight dramatic moments, though the number of lighting cues is excessive and some fail to match the action. At The length it is, she cuts little – too little for the uncomfortable church pews.

With the lack of textual edits, the story is easy to follow and the grand backdrop of the church makes for striking stage pictures, but this is otherwise a run-of-the-mill fringe Shakespeare production. The chosen concept not really coming across and a mix of performance abilities isn’t much much of an issue in a 90-minute version, but at full length, these shortcomings are long to endure. 

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