You can do all sorts of things with Twelfth Night; there's enough gender-bending and sexual innuendo to stir the imagination of the most jaded sociologist. Consequently, it's often played for deep and meaningful significance, despite its innate "the lover has nipped out through the French windows" nature.
That's not the case with this production: it's a sexy romp, a lively frolic, deeper meanings be damned. And that makes for an entertaining evening, particularly in the second act, after the company rushes rather perfunctorily through the early exposition.
This production is not going to help you much if you've got to write a second-year university essay on the deeper meanings of Shakespearean cross-dressing – the boy actor playing a woman playing a man – but you will laugh, will smirk, even if it may be that the most memorable image you'll leave the evening with is a shoulder-top Don Quixote moment that sees Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Alexander Gunney) jousting with the air.
Indeed, it is the physical hijinks that are the most memorable. Amelia Clay as Viola doesn't make much impression in terms of character or comedy, but her early vault onto the top of the grand piano that forms the curious but effective centrepiece of the production (turned around and about in ways to make a piano tuner wince) is notable.
Kate Sawyer as Olivia is so overtly physically sensual in the second act as to be beyond predatory – you could call it melodramatic, but done with such completely heartfelt intensity, it scarcely matters. Tom Shaw as Sir Toby Belch rather overdoes the rolling drunkenness early on, but later controls both speech and motion to more convincing effect.
But there is one standout performance in this cast, that of Gareth Fordred as Feste. The fool is perhaps the best role in this play anyway, but Fordred makes the most of it, combining knowing pathos with joyful folk wisdom.
I'm assuming that as I write, with the production moving south of the Thames tomorrow night, there are some removalists ruefully holding their backs, having taken the centrepiece to the Brockley Jack. If you're down that way, you might want to follow their trail. (If you know the play well, you might want to go just for the second act.)
I saw this production at the Tabard Theatre, where it was playing from September 22 to October 10. It has now moved to the Brockley Jack, where it will be playing until October 24. It's presented by The Faction Theatre Company.