Such Stuff Theatre Company proudly present a lively, fresh and contemporary take on Shakespeare’s classic comedy, on tour from a run at Brighton Queen’s Park. With music, physical theatre, slapstick and romance, this is the perfect way to enjoy an evening!
Twelfth Night by the Such Stuff Theatre Company collaborated with St John’s College to present Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night’ comedy.
Although Brighton fringe has a plethora of contemporary, devised theatre and new writing, finding a well-directed and well-acted Shakespeare play is not so common place. In my mind only two companies I have seen in recent years here have managed to pull it off without ‘hammy’ acting or directing from a self-indulgent (inexperienced) director.
Such Stuff’s production suffers from not one the above pitfalls. Surprising really as it is a new company seemingly put together for this year’s festival. The company is made of young graduates from the likes of Arts Ed, Mountview, Birmingham School of acting, and East 15.
So, with all this young, freshly trained talent bouncing around the grassy fields of Queens Park, one would expect to be entertained. It did not disappoint. A company filled to the brim of recent drama school graduates was a nice change (for Shakespeare play).
With a young David Timmins at the directorial helm it is clear he has a direction in which he wanted the show to embark on, with its modern dress (with a slight traditional throwback) and the musical direction of Adam Wilson (who also played Feste) adding contemporary arrangements to the Shakespearean prose. ‘Lady, Lady’ being a particularly funny and well written arrangement during Tob, Andrew and Feste’s drunken ramblings.
I must state that this is my favourite of all the comedies, playing at school with fond memories; I sat in anticipation to cringe and roll my eyes at the poor chap who played ‘Sir Andrew’ (my favourite part to play).
Luckily for Ben Wells (Sir Andrew) he is a marvellous actor with superb comic timing, he will go on unscathed during this write up. With his multi-coloured socks (and sandals), high wasted shorts and infectious interpretation of the pompous character, he had the audience in stitches, the comedy pairing of both Ben and Richard Hazlewood as Sir Toby was inspired. I overheard one woman in the audience whisper to her husband ‘I need the toilet I’m laughing to hard’. To quote this review one might say this hapless duo were ‘Bladder bustlingly funny’.
From the standard of acting alone (ignoring the park setting, the bunting and the off stage gazebos), one would have assumed it a production by the RSC (Royal Shakespeare Company). With the consistency and standard of acting it would have come as no surprise. The only reason it is clear it is a new; un-established company rather than that of the RSC is shown only by the fact of its choice of venue, and its paper printed programme.
On trekking through Brighton’s Fringe City, up a long hill, left into a unknown park I did struggle to find the performance area- it was a busy, a warm day and the park was bustling with families. However, I found it with time to spare as a ominous cloud appeared, one would have thought it were a production of the Tempest.
I couldn’t help but wonder why the company had chosen or been forced to use a fenced area in the middle of the park rather than the almost amphitheatre space of the ‘Royal Spa’. It’s almost purpose built pillars would have been perfect. However, the middle of the park did the company just fine.
Happily fighting the growing wind had its benefits for the audience, where lesser experienced actor’s voices may have been lost to the open space of the park, projection was not an issue. Richard Hazlewood, Ben Wells and Clive Keene were a wonderfully comic trio during the ‘letter scene’ where Malvolio is to be made ‘a contemplative idiot’. Rightly so, Edward Walters played very part the yellow tight and cross gartered stockings (black fishnets) wearing Malvolio.
With such skill and timing did Edward build his characters fall into romantic trappings of the fake letter, by the end, you didn’t know whether to feel sorry for him, laugh at his forced smile or give him a sympathetic hug.
It is hard to write about this play without writing about the whole cast as this is what truly made the play a success. To mention the male cast members does the female cast members an injustice as rightly so they too were every bit as professional standard as the aforementioned gents. With a talented and beautiful female cast playing the parts of Viola, Maria and Olivia only gave their characters more romantic quality in their portrayal. With the casting of Antonia (a male character) to a striking Sophia Jackson the homoerotic subtleties now become that of unrequited love. (A well-made casting choice by David Timmins, Mark Hemmings and Ben Wells). Rachael Barry played Olivia with such honestly you feel sorry for her as she declares her love to the equally talented Katy Helps as Viola pretending her brother Sebastian (Barry McStay). Filled with swapping of roles, genders and themes of love and manipulation this production of Twelfth Night was brilliant. Not much can be said for the set, there was only a solitary tree. Props, there was only a guitar, a couple of bottles and coins. This company of women as men and men as ‘Merry men...’ have produced (with the help and support of St Johns College) a marvellous show.
My only suggestion would be to next time try the ‘Royal spa’ as a setting as for site specific theatre this has all the fun of its highly budgeted counterparts. In the same vein as their company name, it was Such ‘Wonderful’ Stuff.
Reviewed by Richard Staplehurst 20/05/12