Twelfth Night @ Upstairs at The Gatehouse

Arrows & Traps’ new repertory season sees the company take on Shakespeare’s Othello and Twelfth Night, where the same cast and crew perform the shows on alternating nights. Directed by Ross McGregor, their Twelfth Night is an entertaining adaption that packs comedy and action into a succinct and digestible performance. Although the traditional Elizabethan costumes feel out of character when compared to the company’s usual contemporary take on Shakespeare’s plays, it doesn’t stop this adaptation from being a successful piece of theatre.

The shipwrecked Viola (Pippa Caddick) finds herself on the shores of Illyria, and without her twin brother by her side, she has no choice but to disguise herself as a young man called Cesario in order to navigate this new place. In Illyria, Duke Orsino (Pearce Sampson) is hopelessly in love with Olivia (Cornelia Baumann), and uses the disguised Viola to help woo the woman he loves. When Olivia begins to fall for the cross-dressed Viola, hilarity ensues, which is made even more complicated by the appearance of a young man who looks exactly like Cesario.

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Photo: The Ocular Creative

As an ensemble the company work well together, steadily keeping the energy of the piece high throughout. Baumann embraces Olivia’s subtle humour with ease, and her performance is refreshing. Portraying the play’s fool is Lloyd Warbery, who hilariously delivers the character’s comedy and responds to the audience’s reactions with confidence. However, this adaptation’s stand out character has to be Malvolio, performed impeccably by Adam Elliott. Although not the most interesting or likeable character in the play, Elliott performs Malvolio with so much brilliance and passion that you can’t help but smile every time he appears on stage. His comedy is on point, and the interactions between him and Feste the fool were the most enjoyable parts of this piece.

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Photo: The Ocular Creative

While the talented cast present Shakespeare’s adaptation with spirit, it is McGregor’s exploration of the relationship between Sebastian and Antonio that is refreshing to see on stage. Viola’s twin Sebastian (Alex Stevens) is rescued by the sailor Antonio (Spencer Lee Osborne), and it appears the two have a sexual relationship. While some adaptations choose to ignore this “problematic” coupling, the director doesn’t shy away from the obvious attraction between the two, but brings it to the surface. Portraying their chemistry on stage is a delightful addition to the plot, which adds another layer of intrigue to Sebastian and Olivia’s pairing.

Running at just over two and a half hours (including an interval) it is always a joy to watch a Shakespeare piece that can engage and hold attention for that period of time. Packed full of comedy, romance, and superb acting, McGregor’s Twelfth Night is an enjoyable adaptation, and a wonderful addition to the Arrows & Traps canon.

Twelfth Night is at Upstairs at the Gatehouse until 19th November.

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The Taming of the Shrew @ C South, Edinburgh Fringe

Performed  by Soon Chun Hyang University’ English Drama Club, The Taming of the Shrew is an up-beat and funky adaptation of Shakespeare’s comedy. The company fuse traditional Korean performance with modern-day hip hop to produce a hilariously bawdy play that explores the theme of harmony between old and new.

Katharina loves hip hop, but her father Baptista wants her to be more like her younger sister Bianca, who loves traditional Korean music and dance. Because of her amiable qualities, many of the village’s young men are fond of Bianca, but Baptista is only willing to let his daughter marry after her older sister has done so. The men hatch a plan to find a suitor for Kate, and Petruchio is seen to be a perfect match for her. Petruchio attempts to tame Kate’s non-traditional characteristics, and hilarity ensues, culminating into a happy ending for both of the sisters.

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The play is condensed into 60 minutes of energetic comedy. In particular Won Chui Choi is brilliant as Lucentio, who endearingly falls in love with various members of the audience before finally choosing Bianca. The lewd imagery is heightened by the performers’ amusing physical comedy, especially during the scene changes. While the clownish performances are humorous, there are some beautiful moments in the play too. The opening traditional dance is one of them, and the elegance of the performers skillfully moving around the sage is stunning. The best thing about the adaptation is Director Kim Han Baek’s focus on female empowerment. In the end of the play, Kate defies her “taming” by continuing her love for hip hop. The other performers join in with her dancing too, and the play marvellously ends with a strong female character challenging the norm, which makes this adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew superb.

 

As You Like It @ Spotlites, Edinburgh Fringe

Directed by Nicholas Barter and performed by the Shanghai Theatre Academy, As You Like It is a retelling of Shakespeare’s play set in 1920s China. The play celebrates the 400th anniversary of the deaths of Shakespeare and Chinese playwright Tang Xianu, continuing the poets’ legacies. By focusing on the changes in China as it entered the 20th Century, and how these influenced clothes, music and tradition, Barter emphasises the themes of change in the play.

Rosalind, the daughter of the banished Duke Senior, is removed from the Chinese Court by her uncle Duke Frederick. At the same time the young gentleman Orlando, who she is in love with, is forced to leave his home too. Rosalind takes refuge in the Forest of Arden, along with her cousin Celia and court jester Touchstone, donning a male disguise to keep the three of them safe. When she sees Orlando in the forest, Rosalind decides to establish whether or not his love for her is true by appearing to him in her male attire. This leads to hilarious encounters of mistaken identity and the union of many couples in the end.

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While the love between Rosalind and Orlando is the central story of As You Like It, this adaptation really emphasises the loving relationship between cousins Rosalind and Celia. The two are inseparable, playfully roaming the stage together. The performers beautifully present the love between the two girls with warmth and sincerity. The humour of the piece shines through in particular with the physical comedy of the characters. Touchstone’s clownish appearance is entertaining, and he receives the most laughs from the audience. Unfortunately, the comedy of his speech is somewhat lost in translation due to the mismatched surtitles, and the non-Mandarin speaking members of the audience can miss the cultural relevance of the jokes. But the physicality of the character’s humour transcends the language barrier, which heightens the comedy of Touchstone.

In cross-cultural adaptations of Shakespeare’s work, it is always fascinating to uncover what elements companies attempt to focus on and how this affects the understanding of their culture and interpretation. For the students of Shanghai Theatre Academy, the emphasis is on the humour in the play, but also the strong female friendship displayed in it, which highlights the empowering changes in early 20th Century China.

A Midsummer Night’s Dreaming & Dreaming Under the Southern Bough @ theSpace@Niddry St, Edinburgh Fringe

Developed by the University of Leeds and the University of International Business and Economics in China, this double bill of plays is inspired by Shakespeare and Chinese playwright Tang Xianzu. To celebrate the 400th anniversary of their deaths, the students from both universities have created these works with emphasis on the theme of dreaming. While A Midsummer Night’s Dreaming is a fun and playful piece, Dreaming Under the Southern Bough lacks the magical qualities of Xianzu’s play Nanke Ji which it is based on.

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In A Midsummer Night’s Dreaming, young couple Hermia and Lysander take some time off University to retreat to Sophora Nest Hotel. When they arrive, they are greeted by three playful spirits who welcome their visit. The couple are followed by their friends Helena and Demetrius. Regardless of Lysander’s relationship status, Helena is in love with him, and despite this, Demetrius is hopelessly devoted to her. In order to satisfy their interest in these mortal beings, the spirits put a spell on Hermia and Helena, and the two fall in love with Demetrius, leading to hilariously compromising situations.

This light-hearted adaptation directed by Li Jun emphasises comedic stereotypes and physical humour. Demetrius is performed superbly by Sun Bingchang and stands out from the other characters with his exaggerated, geeky nature, which adds further comical effect to Hermia and Helena’s obsessions with him. The only uncomfortable elements of the piece are the sudden performances of rap. With no other elements of this style of music present in the play, the rapping is jarring and also very awkward. Aside from that however, by focusing entirely on the young lovers in the play and drawing on teenage rom-com tropes, Jun has created a delightfully youthful adaptation.

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The second play of the double bill, directed by Steve Ansell, follows Chenyu (George Clifford), a young officer who is struggling with the memories he has of being on the front lines and losing his fellow officers. After an encounter with a spiritual woman (Cao Xinyi), Chenyu goes on an enlightening journey, where he marries Princess Yaofang (Milly Stell), encounters war again and learns to be a better man.

Performed straight after A Midsummer Night’s Dreaming, the more spiritual and serious nature of Dreaming Under the Southern Bough is a welcome tone. At first, the play seems interesting, as it explores affects of post traumatic stress disorder on those in the military. However, this idea isn’t developed further, nor are any other concepts in the play. Things are alluded to, like spirituality and enlightenment, but it isn’t explored in depth. The quick time lapses in the performance means the action moves too quickly, not allowing enough time for some of the themes to progress. Barely any emphasis is made about Chenyu’s metamorphosis into an ant, and he is hardly surprised by what is happening to him. When he finally wakes up from the dream, he is a transformed man, but Clifford’s lack of character development in his performance makes the change in him hard to believe. On this occasion, Dreaming Under the Southern Bough needs more work to turn it into a coherent and engaging piece of work.

A Midsummer Night’s DREAMING Under the Southern Bough will touring in China between 14th – 28th September.

A Kingdom for a Stage @ Chelsea Theatre

In the year celebrating the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, London is bustling with theatre celebrating the Bard. Tony Diggle’s play A Kingdom for a Stage brings together Shakespeare and his contemporaries in a story that switches between the afterlife, present-day London, and Early Modern Stratford-Upon-Avon. While the play explores interesting aspects of Shakespeare’s life and works, the mismatch of ideas created by Diggle become quite dull at points.

Shakespeare is sitting wide-eyed staring at the audience. Around him, Ben Jonson, Christopher Marlowe, George Bernard Shaw, and Puck try to understand what has placed him in this state of shock. It becomes apparent that he has written a new play after visiting the present-day City of London. To establish whether or not the play is any good, the group of players decide it should be acted out. While this is going on, Shakespeare looks back to his youth and his life in Statford-Upon-Avon, thinking about his wife Anne. Finally, the play ends with a song and prologue delivered by the Bard himself.

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Photo: Charlene Segeral

The playwrights arguing and jesting with each other in the opening of the play is very enjoyable, and starts the show off on a high. Diggle playfully includes references to each of the characters’ work and history in these scenes, which is appreciated by those who can pick them up in the audience. The rivalry between Shakespeare, Marlowe and Jonson is hilarious to watch. However, as the play moves into Stratford-Upon-Avon in the middle part of the first half, the dialogue begins to get stuffy. Although the historical content is interesting, and Diggle interprets Shakespeare’s home life in a unique way, the lengthiness of the dialogue becomes tedious. The conversations between Anne and Shakespeare’s father John feels very static, and the fact that it goes on for so long without much action means it is easy to become distracted.

In the second half, the players perform Shakespeare’s newly written play. Diggle cleverly uses it as a social commentary on the state London is in now: the hustle and bustle of the city, money, the stock market, loans, banks, and the desperation of its people. The language of the play within a play is very poetic, and Diggle weaves into it lines from Shakespeare’s own plays. It is a modern-day morality play, as Shaw remarks, complete with Marlowe’s own Mephistopheles and Seven Deadly Sins. But after this ends, the action goes back to its flat self. It seems the Bard’s trips to Stratford-Upon-Avon cannot be completed unless a boring soliloquy or dialogue ensues. Maybe it is just the fact that the London Shakespeare is far more interesting than the family man.

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Photo: Charlene Segeral

The ensemble are brilliant and there are some great stand-out performances. Jonathan Coote is admirable as Will Shakespeare, the poetry rolling off his tongue with ease, and commanding the stage like an excellent player. Christopher Knott’s short but hilarious visit as an Angel adds wonderful comedy to the piece. Caitlin McMillan as Mephistopheles does a tremendous job as the alluring and damming character.

While the ideas presented by Diggle are a great concept, it seems in this instance they do not work well together. There are too many ideas trying to be placed into one play. On the one hand, there is the delightful conversation between the great playwrights, and Shakespeare’s visit to present-day London (which I wish was longer) and consequently the brilliantly written play within the play. On the other hand, the long dialogues between members of Shakespeare’s family, and his relationship with his wife and daughters, drags the play out, which outweighs the great elements of A Kingdom for a Stage.

A Kingdom for a Stage is at the Chelsea Theatre until 7th May