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Edinburgh Fringe 2016

Twelfth Night or The Ship of Fools


Genre: Classical and Shakespeare

Venue: theSpaceUK On The Mile


Low Down

A high energy and intriguing interpretation of Twelfth Night by an extremely accomplished troupe of players.


Illyria has shifted itself to the Costa del Sol, sometime in the early 1980’s, for this tale of sun, sea, sand and a few hairy chests (and that’s just the women!) in this very original adaptation of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. So it is that we board a creaking BOAC plane bound for the south. But we hit some pretty violent turbulence which results in the plane ditching into the sea, throwing its occupants to the mercy of the waves and a handily-placed desert island.

For those of you unfamiliar with this Shakespeare plot, it encompasses girls playing boys, boys being fooled by other boys into thinking that girls are enamoured of them and a good dollop of tomfoolery and cross dressing. And everyone ends up living happily ever after. Except Malvolio, of course. It’s a recipe for bags of action, lots of fast entrances and exits and a good bit of confusion, all of which this wonderful troupe of players from Livewire deliver with enthusiasm and gusto.

It’s all go from the start with mimed plane crashes, dashing messengers and jilted suitors. High energy dialogue is delivered with exquisite clarity and the frequent scene changes are slickly effected. But where this performance really scores is in the overall quality of the acting. The Tait family, via a mother and four daughters, filled the roles of director, Olivia, Viola/Cesario, Maria and Queen Death with ingenuity (in the case of Mum) and aplomb (in the case of each of her offspring). A husband and wife team delivered Antonio and a wonderfully effervescent Sir Andrew Aguecheek and the corpulent James Sanderson, as Sir Toby Belch, was a perfect physical and character fit, complete with belching, farting and a commanding stage presence.

But the stars of the show were the Fools and Malvolio. The reimagining of Feste as a band of fools was a stroke of genius. A bunch of macabre, anarchic rogues, they were dealers in body parts, bestowed with contemporary dialogue that ensured they dragged the audience right into the body of the show. And the stand out Fool was young Hugh Sanderson. Possessed of a rubber face and feline movement (and a nice singing voice), he stole every scene with his impish demeanour, engaging eyes and expressive voice.

However, even this very talented young actor was eclipsed by Henry Weston-Davies in his superbly crafted portrayal of Malvolio. Appropriately servile and pompous at the start, he became slowly more consumed by hubris as he was taken in by the false entreaties of Maria, purporting to be Olivia expressing a love interest in him. The infamous “cross-garter” scene saw Weston-Davies, clad in 80’s style red skin-tight plastic complete with self-flagellating whip, deliver a tour-de-force declaration of his love for Olivia and there was genuine pathos when he realised he had been set-up.

Some very clever props and some creative lighting ensured that the tight confines of theSpaceUK venue on the Royal Mile never seemed over-crowded, despite the fact that there were sixteen in the cast and an awful lot of comings and goings. Perhaps they missed a trick by speaking words that are normally sung in the play (When I Was But a Little Tiny Boy being just one example) but that is a very minor quibble on what was a superbly crafted production delivered with gusto by a very talented cast.

What a shame, then, that they finish up this weekend with the last performance scheduled for Saturday 13th. Thoroughly recommended, if you can get to it.