Last week, my dad booked the pair of us last minute tickets to Twelfth Night at the Royal Exchange Theatre. We love theatre, we love that particular theatre and we are fans of Shakespeare.
This offering did not let us down.
Before I start, the show is running for about another week, so grab your tickets right now. I was surprised by the amount of empty seats there were when we went - this production deserves to be sold out night after night.
Shakespeare's plays have been performed again and again, retold in many ways and reimagined by so many performers. I've seen my fair share of both the very good and the very poor! I'd put this up with my very favourites.
I'm usually someone who leans towards the tragedies rather than the comedies, and I think that's because comedy can arguably be more difficult to get right.
This truly was 'Shakespeare done right'. It was bawdy, rowdy, musical, lively... it felt like a true celebration of the way these plays were written to be performed. It was laugh out loud comedy and the famous words were handled with slick ease by a brilliant cast.
I love theatre performed in the round and this show was well-directed to really make use of the space The actors addressed every part of the theatre and there were moments where the audience just felt a part of everything happening on the stage. I was particularly impressed by the use of the sand laid on the floor and the rain used multiple times throughout the evening.
The music plays a huge part in this production, and the musicians executed skillful scene transitions, sometimes playing from their booth up on the second level and sometimes wandering as a group of travelling players through the scenes. The music in the opening scene was incredibly atmospheric, and combined with the lighting offered a mesmeric start to the show.
Faith Omole played the role of Viola excellently - I was so drawn to her every moment she was on the stage. Her performance was faultless, and her singing was truly beautiful and something I'd listen to again and again.
Anthony Calf took on the part of poor old Malvolio with skill, pulling huge laughs from the audience again and again, handling his character's decline with conviction. Maria (Mina Anwar) provided another huge dose of comedy, although I think she sometimes got so carried away in the excitement of her character that diction wasn't always as clear as it could be.
I really enjoyed Kevin Harvey's accent (as Orsino) and found him incredibly likeable. He handled the duality of powerful king and lovesick puppy well, and he and Omole interacted beautifully.
The last cast member I'll mention is Simon Armstrong, who made a superb Sir Toby Belch. He was funny and clever, and commanded attention in every scene. I'm still not quite sure if the broken electric guitar in the 'party' scene was supposed to happen or he cleverly improvised by summoning his acoustic guitar, but either way, it worked!
It's been a while since I've seen any Shakespeare on stage, and this production reminded me why I love it, It's an intelligent, witty, musical, energetic version of the play, and well worth a watch.