Madness, mayhem, yellow stockings and binge drinking have all descended on the Tricycle theatre with Filter’s surreal take on Twelfth Night, Shakespeare’s comedy of mistaken identity and cross-dressing. Charlotte Marshall was in the first night audience.
Twelfth Night tells the story of Viola (Poppy Miller), the daughter of an aristocrat who is shipwrecked in the land of Illyria. Believing her twin brother Sebastian to be dead, she disguises herself as a man called Cesario and offers her services to the Duke Orsino (Jonathan Broadbent) who is desperately trying to woo the grieving Olivia (Syreeta Kumar). Unfortunately the path of love never did run smooth and Olivia, rebutting Orsino’s advances, falls in love with Cesario, who has in turn, in true Shakespearien style, fallen for Orsino. Luckily for all however, Sebastian is finally revealed to have survived the shipwreck and upon arrival proves to be a suitable replacement for Olivia’s affections, whilst Orsino, who now realises it was just a sock in her trousers after all, asks Viola to marry him.
The play centres on the collision of Olivia’s sombre house, complete with her serious and over sincere servant Malvolio (Ferdy Roberts), and the drunken revelries of her uncle Sir Toby Belch (Oliver Dimsdale) combined with the excess of Orsino’s passions. Filter works its with trademark technique, integrating music and sound into the performance to highlight this clash of emotions. One scene conveying Belch and his friend Aguecheek’s (Broadbent) drunken excess includes the characters slurring their lines into hand held microphones, holding on to each other and stumbling across the stage as they sing, creating a picture reminiscent of a karaoke bar on a Friday night. At other points characters break into rock songs and Malvolio does an excellent impression of Iggy Pop as he strips down to his yellow stockings, all the while behaving like he could be in a punk rock band.
The audience are made to work for their entertainment with a healthy dose of audience participation. From the very beginning it is demanded, as the cast jam on stage with the instruments, synths and microphones scattered around the other wise empty space, Duke Orsino struggles to make his opening, iconic line and the audience are happy to declare for him that “If music be the food of love, play on.” Viola’s transformation to a man is helped along with the donation of a jacket and hat from male members of the audience and the constantly intoxicated Toby Belch is more than happy to share his tequila with the girls in the front row.
This is where Filter’s strengths lie. By constantly surprising the audience – even a pizza delivery turns up half way through for anyone who might be peckish – they add a burst of energy into an already entertaining play. While those unfamiliar with the story might do best to read a more traditional version first before attempting this surrealist production, the play achieves the company’s goal of breathing spontaneity and fun into Shakespeare’s work.