‘The Twelfth Night or What You Will’ by William Shakespeare was first performed in February 1602 (Candlemas), and yet not published for a further 21 years. The title ‘Twelfth Night’ is a reference to the twelfth night after Christmas Day, called the ‘Eve of the Feast of Epiphany’.
This old Shakespeare favourite is the latest production from Modicum Theatre that is mainly a collection of enthusiastic, ex-Perth Modern graduates.
The 130-minute performances can be seen at 7.30 pm on Thursday 30th November, Friday 1st December, and Saturday 2nd December at Murdoch University’s Outdoor Amphitheatre, on the South Street Campus.
Turn off Murdoch Drive, opposite St John of God, into Discovery Way. After 1 km, the venue is opposite car park 7 – where the parking is free. Go upstairs in the Amenities Building (490) to the area behind. Prepare to keep warm.
The Scene: is Illyria, an ancient region of the Western Balkans (Albania), whose western coast is on the Adriatic Sea, and was mainly populated by Celts.
The Stage: The theatre is a right angle with a 10-metre circular stage in the corner. The seating was a mix of deckchairs, bean bags, rugs and blankets, all situated on the surrounding grass slope.
The set: There were three or four matt black flats, and a box bush, jokingly made from boxes, crates, and branches. The design was by Stephanie Ferguson.
The old style, incandescent lighting was supported on a couple of tripods, and aimed horizontally at the stage. This mix of floods and spots worked extremely well, and even created convincing night scenes. Technical director was Tay Broadley, and the system operated by Jason Tolj. This was a first-class show, presented in difficult technical circumstances. The whole show was stage managed by Lee Biddle.
As a postscript, I operated the lighting on ‘Twelfth Night’ when it was our school play – 56 years ago. Bryan Ferry of Roxy Music was Malvolio.
The cast did their 10-minute warmup on stage, immediately before the show commenced.
The wealthy Countess Olivia (Hannah Bardsley) has turned down Orsino, Duke of Illyria (Jonathan Maddocks), for marriage, several times.
After a massive storm at sea, Viola (Abbey McCaughan), with the aid of the Captain (Ryan Partridge), staggers ashore. Thinking that her twin brother Sebastian (Aaron O’Neil) ‘is Unda da sea, unda da sea’ – oops, sorry that is another play – has been drowned, she is devastated. In a strange land, she decides that she will be safer dressed as a boy. Calling herself called Cesario; she gets work as a page to Duke Orsino, whom she immediately falls in love with. Orsino sends this new page Cesario/Viola, to see Olivia and put in a good word for him.
However, Olivia again rejects Orsino, but is immediately attracted to his new pageboy, Cesario, so Olivia has her reliable stewardess, Malvolia (Elizabeth Willow) delver a ring to him.
Olivia’s uncle, Sir Toby (Mike Casas) dislikes Malvolia, and so recruits Olivia’s gentlewoman, Maria (Courtney Maldo), and his very rich but dim friend, Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Sean Wcislo) to plot. Sir Toby does not know that Sir Andrew also fancies Olivia. The group write a letter to Malvolia, pretending it has come from Olivia, and has his servant Fabien (Ryan Partridge) deliver it.
Thinking that Olivia loves her, Malvolia follows the letter’s demands and appears in yellow stockings, cross-gartered, and smiling, to show her true love for Olivia. The Countess is dismayed and has Malvolio locked up in her cellar. Feste the Fool (Sarah Lewis) cheers up Olivia.
However, Viola’s twin brother, Sebastian, has survived the shipwreck and stays with his two-faced friend, Antonio (Beck Thorman), who is wanted for piracy against Orsino.
Being jealous of Cesario’s closeness to Olivia, Sir Andrew’s challenges Cesario to a sword fight – to the death. However, Antonio mistakes Cesario for her twin, Sebastian, so defends his friend. In doing so Antonio is arrested by Orsino’s men, Curio (Tashlin Church) and Valentin (Hayley Lyons).
Will love come to any one?
The director was Leigh Fitzpatrick, who is showing his versatility. Recently he starred in ‘Spd D8n’ a madcap musical, then as a cowboy in ‘The Laramies’. His last Shakespeare acting part was as the orphan, Leonatus, that Cymbeline raised from a child.
Professional sound engineers use a measurement known as ‘an open window unit’. This expresses how much sound is lost according to the lack of surfaces to bounce back off. Congratulations to Leigh Fitzpatrick, the director, who had a full understanding of rogue actors who talk towards the back of the stage, where there are no surfaces to rebound the sound. Rarely did anyone look upwards whilst speaking, or talk to the side, where with the circular stage there were no wings. Leigh even organised the movement of furniture to face the audience. Outdoors, actors are required to speak their dialogue more slowly and with pure enunciation; again, this team did not let us down. Congratulations, barely a word was lost.
The cast’s costumes were designed by Tarryn McGrath and the director. They were mainly black T-shirts and black leggings, with a few, smart ancient military uniforms. Then of course were Malvolia’s (not Malvolio – this was a young woman) yellow criss-crossed leggings, so fabulously used by Elizabeth Willow in the attempt to seduce.
The sword fight was energetic and threatening.
Outdoor performances can often have poor entrances by the actors, who, being more accustomed to entering from the wings, misjudge the longer walking distance to reach the stage. The cast were perfect in their timing and their pace excellent throughout the show.
There were several very good performances, including Sir Toby and Olivia, but Abbey McCaughan’s demeanour and style was outstanding.
Feste the Fool (Sarah Lewis) sang with a natural – unforced – beautiful vibrant voice in the clear night air to the musical compositions by Ruth Bardsley.
At a time of the Equality ’Yes / No’ vote, appropriately, this play about cross dressing, and sexual confusion had even more misunderstanding with some male parts being played by a female – who cares? It worked, well done Leigh for trying something new.
This was a first-class show, boldly presented in difficult technical circumstances.