The most imaginative, stylish, modern and brilliantly staged production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night was enjoyed over three evenings in the Theatre on the Hill with a superb cast. Several of the actors, who had first trodden the boards when very young at the School, were now the drama’s magnificent leading lights, bringing out the roles tremendously of Orsino - Charlotte (U6SUT); Toby Belch - Keira (U6SUT) and Sir Andrew Aguecheek – Anaïs (U6SUT), with the full effects of a text that is packed to the rafters with innuendo, gender-swapped disguises and puns. Younger members of the small company matched the commanding and delightful slapstick of their fellow Upper Sixth actors. The machinations of Maria, played excellently by Niamh (10A), and the Jester, acted mischievously by Emma (10A), inter-wove seamlessly with the drunken Sir Andrew and his friend, Olivia’s drunken uncle, Sir Toby. This slap-stick ribaldry contrasted beautifully with the cool and grand elegance of the object of Orsino’s initial love; Countess Olivia. Sophie (L6DEM) created a stunning and glacial countess who captures Orsino’s heart; she was very ably assisted by Megan (10ω) and Zoe (11B) as members of Olivia’s household.
Likewise, Naeve (10B) and Annabel (10B) made a terrific match as Viola and her brother, Sebastian, respectively, each ending happily with the partners with whom they fall in love, in spite of Viola’s love being for Orsino, who in turn is infatuated with Olivia. Naeve (10B) brought out, very convincingly, that complicated love triangle with just the right subtlety and with the necessary torment, since, for much of the play, only she knows that she is a woman disguised as a man who has fallen for her master. Viola has the added complication, too, that the Duke, Orsino, sends her (dressed as the male Casario whom Orsino thinks she is until the end) to deliver messages to his intended love-interest, Olivia, to help in his wooing. Intrigue and humour arises until all find their rightful partners: Olivia with Viola’s bother, Sebastian, and Orsino realising that Viola possesses women’s ‘weeds’ really and is in love with him which he is more than happy to accept.
Yet, there is one love-sick member of the company who does not get his love; the most deliberately absurd character perhaps in the play is Malvolio, who was acted with an assured and perfectly timed agility by Ella (10ω). Indeed, her enactment brought the house down, especially when appearing roller skating down the checked floor, dressed in cross garters and yellow stockings. Ella’s timing of the humour at all times was breathtakingly clever; she captured Malvolio’s pomposity brilliantly so that the trickery played on him by Maria and her partners-in-crime, in Sir Andrew and Sir Toby (who hate Malvolio interfering with their drinking and dancing) seemed understandable. Nobody will forget Ella’s attempts as Malvolio to impress Olivia as she cavorted and skated about the stage so flamboyantly and hysterically well to ABBA’s Voulez Vous. It was sheer delight and all the characters, also including those parts played by Alyssa (10ω), of Captain and Officer, and Antonio, by Philippa (10α), as well as Curio, acted by Gemma (L6CSK), were each perfected to be part of this terrific ensemble. It was a visual treat, as you can see in the photography by Miss Ella Federico, who snapped all the wonderful scenes from the first moments of our arrival.
Indeed, from the moment the audience entered the theatre and took their seats, they knew they were going to be enticed. The round tables were laden with colourful tablecloths that surrounded the fabulous black and white check floor pattern, so carefully laid and cut to form a swirling shape by Mrs Claire Drewe and Mrs Camilla Lawson. The cabaret style setting, with the sense of the audience being part of the experience, was really engaging. The set also had a thrust and a plinth so that we could see the wonderful Olivia from on high, the object of so many characters’ love. Chris Wilson from WLX Productions provided the staging and technical help and it was really outstanding. The set was decorated by Mrs Ailsa West and Mrs Lauren McCready and was simply charming. Mr Nick Cartledge (Keyboard), Mr Tom Vincent (Drums, Mr Joe Yeadon (Double Bass) and Ami (L6DEM) (Saxophone) formed a jazz band in a corner of this stage that greeted us as we took our seats with our drinks in hand, thanks to the Farnborough Hill Friends. More wonderful music punctuated and enhanced the action throughout the play, easing us into the opening act with Orsino’s famous line, ‘If music be the food of love, play on’. The play so abounded with music; it was positively a banquet. Shakespeare’s own songs were put to jazz numbers, cleverly adapted by Mr Nick Cartledge. The love triangles and intrigues were underlined by romps and dances with numbers from British rock band, Queen, even making an appearance. All these elements culminated into an atmosphere of pleasure in silliness, as well as a treat for all our senses. The final dance had also been spectacularly choreographed by the renowned movement director, Steve Kirkham, to dramatic music by Karl Jenkins and T. Rex.
The costumes were a feast for the eye. They combined oodles of charm with additional flounces and sparkle, alongside the quirky and the funky. Doc Marten boots made appearances in all manner of colours and designs thanks to the ingenuity and dexterity of Mrs Holly Suchet’s and Ms Cathi Woods’ costume sourcing and needlework. Holly Suchet’s gorgeous ruffs in silver and gold became coveted possessions among the cast. The whole production combined tradition, cabaret and comic festival while also featuring modern, edgy elements. This was a classic feel-good fare that brought great comfort and joy. It was noticeable how strong the teamwork was among the crews who worked perfectly with the actors to produce slick and mastered scene-changing, lighting, hair and make-up and sound effects that made this a visual and audio delight.
The audience escaped into the hilarity and inhabitants of that land of Illryia where Sebastian and Viola had been washed up following the storm that wrecked their ship. Incidentally, the enactment of the sea and sinking of the ship were ingeniously constructed too, with cloth and handheld ship cut outs, created by Mr Ciaran Bradley, excellently moved in time by many of the pupils from Year 8ω and company, which brought much mirth. It was all such wonderful fun, the cast did not want to leave after the end of the final production; the applause lasted a long time, as did the thanks and enormous depth of appreciation for the Director, Mr Helen de Mattos, and the Assistant Director, Mr Erik Anders, as well as all involved in the production. Mrs Zoe Ireland oversaw hair and makeup with many pupils; Mr Alan Rees with the light and sound crew; and Mrs Hazel Burrows who oversaw the staging with her crew too.
What is clear is that Mrs Helen de Mattos excels at the job of taking a concept and creating a brilliant production in which all who are involved are very much part of the whole; it lifted us all up and made us laugh until our sides ached. It had many variations in acting, from love sickness and deep romance, to drunken revelry, in addition to the comic but angry outcome of the trick played on Malvolio who vows to take revenge on the lot of them. Mrs Helen de Mattos entwined all the aspects with an impeccable artistry so that, indeed, when it was over, everyone wanted it to ‘play on’.
Mrs Lori Winch-Johnson