The Blue Elephant Theatre is a venue I’ve been meaning to tick off my list for quite a while now, admittedly because I am a huge elephant fanatic and what could be better than a theatre that shares the name with my favourite mammal? It was even more fitting that my favourite Shakespeare play, the tremendous, plot-twisting Twelfth Night was to be brought to the ever-so-slightly-hidden Camberwell venue.
Set in the mystical land of Illyria, the play follows twins Viola and Sebastian, who have been separated in a shipwreck. Viola, believing her brother has been lost at sea, disguises herself as a boy and is taken under the wing of Count Orsino, who is in love with the woeful Lady Olivia. Swearing not to look upon a man until she is over the deaths of her late brother and father, she unexpectedly falls for the disguised Viola, who in turn falls in love with Orsino. Filled with trickery, foolery and plenty of laugh out loud twists, this feast of farce really is one of Shakespeare’s most brilliant comedies.
Original Impact Theatre Company’s version of Twelfth Night has been carried into modern day by director Sam Dunstan and includes vest tops and Bacardi, Beyoncé and beatboxing – the latter of which I wouldn’t ordinarily say I am a fan of, nor did I necessarily think it was appropriate for the play but weirdly found myself being quite impressed with Andi Jashari’s skill. Despite the play’s main plot being the Viola, Orsino and Olivia love triangle, this production chooses to focus more heavily on the sub-plot of Sir Toby Belch and his rabble of drunken friends as they conspire to cause havoc among the island. As riotously funny as Belch is, it did feel as though he was played slightly too drunk at times, causing him to have little substance – the play is about love and gender and asks us to consider who we fall in love with. That said, Belch, Sir Andrew (Dinos Psychogios) and Feste (Sian Eleanor Green) do throw tonnes of energy into their threesome performance and are certainly the glue that holds this play together. The performance of the night, however must go to the lovely-locked Eve Niker who does an excellent job as Olivia. She is particularly funny as she flirtatiously advances on the mortified Viola (Katie Turner).
The musical input of modern pop songs, talentedly sang by the cast, is warmly welcomed, though I couldn’t help but wish they had continued this into the second act. The use of the trombone played by James Morley was particularly pleasing but disappointingly underused. The element of design was also sparingly used, leaving us with an empty stage but for a message of “To beer or not to beer (that is the question)” graffitied onto the back wall. With such a bright script and beachwear for costume, the bear black wall felt too cold for this production and didn’t help in placing the action. The taped-together chairs to create the effect of a sofa also felt somewhat lazy.
This is certainly a “slightly mad production” with some very random moments thrown in for good measure. The cast work well to hold the energy and keep the pace but this doesn’t always work in the play’s favour. The focus on the bawdy behaviour of the drunkards means the story feels incomplete and doesn’t encourage any deep thinking or room for feelings of empathy, making it quite a shallow interpretation. But the words are still there, and even if I didn’t love every decision made, it still succeeds in reminding me of what a truly amazing play this is and how many different things can be done with it.
By Grace Ward