Rating: 4.5 stars
The atmosphere at the dress run of 3BUGS Fringe Theatre and UoB’s LGBTQ Association’s performance ‘12’, directed by Annie Kershaw, was one of hilarity and vibrancy. What was promised to the audience was “a new version” of Shakespeare’s ‘Twelfth Night’, and right from entering the space, it was clear this promise would be kept. A simplistic set, designed by Poppy Kettle, lay before the audience – just a clothes rail filled with colourful garments sat next to a piano – and, as we got comfy, cast members approached us in-character to say hello. Giggles could be heard from around the room before the performance even began, and the laughter did not take a break as the cast set off with a performance of the all-time love song classic, ‘My Heart Will Go On’ in a hilariously dramatic and over-the-top way. With this exciting introduction, the audience had been prepped for a fun and unique 50 minutes.
Aware that this take on ‘Twelfth Night’ was incorporating live music, I was impressed by musical directors Aron Sood and Tom Noyes’ creative choices. Piano instrumentals of classics, pop and even hip-hop tracks are performed live by Sood and used as background music during set changes, helping to liven up the Shakespearian text and keep the energy upbeat and the pace moving. Songs were also carefully selected to be sung by characters throughout the show, accompanied by Sood, allowing for deeper character and theme development and, in many cases, hilarious comedic moments. A personal musical highlight of mine was the sultry rendition of Katy Perry’s ‘I Kissed a Girl’ which came after Olivia stole a kiss from the unsuspecting Viola (‘Cesario’). Perfectly arranged with sassy backing vocals and effective, slick choreography, this number is thematically appropriate and huge fun to watch.
The cast is small – just six of them make up the performance – but the talented young actors multi-role successfully and are strong enough performers to create a fabulous chorus. The actors convey the Shakespearian language in such a way that even those unfamiliar with the plot could follow it easily.
Individually, there are some highly impressive and effective performances. Lucy Price is hysterical as the drunk and raucous Sir Toby Belch, capturing the audience’s attention with her use of physical comedy and entertaining delivery, showing she has a clear flair for this kind of comedic performance. Comedy also comes from Mimi Halfway, performing as Olivia’s licensed fool Feste in drag, and with witty delivery of lines which often subverted their meaning, a whole new take on this character is created which the audience loved. Other comical moments are provided by Joe Bonfield in his role as a chorus member, displaying a striking singing voice and entertaining dance moves, and as Sebastian, where he displays the utter confusion felt by a character trapped in an extreme case of mistaken identity in an amusing and effective way. We also gather an intriguing insight into the male bond between him and his close friend Antonio, also played by Halfway, and the audience is left wondering about the nature of this close relationship. Megan Farquhar plays a brilliant Olivia, capturing perfectly her rebellious nature when lusting after the alluring ‘Cesario’ and providing the audience with some spot-on visual moments as she tries to play it cool in front of him. Jo Patmore plays an earnest and kind-eyed Viola (‘Cesario’), creating a believable character we can’t help but care for, whilst her vocal ability is also worth mentioning in the ‘I Kissed a Girl’ number.
An incredibly notable performance comes from Esther Mead and her role as Malvolio, Olivia’s head servant and secret admirer. She performs the uptight and screeching Malvolio extremely well and develops this role even further in an outstanding vocal performance of Radiohead’s ‘Creep’. Having been made a fool of by Toby and his friends in front of Olivia, this powerful moment allows the audience to see more clearly Malvolio’s heartbreak and desperate aching to be loved by Olivia. From laughing our heads off, suddenly the audience sat completely still, utterly entranced by this heart-wrenching performance which nearly had me in tears. Mead’s visual performance throughout the song was stunning and the ability to go from one extreme atmosphere to another so smoothly and effectively also exhibits the directorial skills of Kershaw.
Overall, 3BUGS and the LGBTQ Association have created an impressive and hugely entertaining interpretation of ‘Twelfth Night’. Expect the unexpected when you go and see this energetic and fresh take on the classic tale, with thought-provoking gender reversals and character insights which explore the core themes of gender identity and hidden love in a unique and hilarious way.
If you want to see the fantastic ‘12’ for yourself, head to ‘theSpace’ on Niddry Street at this years Edinburgh Fringe Festival. ‘12’ will run August 14th-19th and August 21st-26th at 21:10. Go to https://www.edfringe.com/ for more information or click this link for tickets https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/12.