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ROSTRA PRESENTS ’TWELFTH NIGHT’ IN PONTIO – REVIEW

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Photo Credit: Rhys Churchill

Directors Calee Sears and Sian Billington must be incredibly grateful for having such a talented cast at hand. Ema Lewis (Viola) and Lenita Mathias (Olivia), especially, are full of potential and it’s a joy to watch them perform. Their performances are subtle but poignant, and despite the difficult and archaic script they manage to keep a sense of naturalism. Lewis’s strengths are her timing and brilliant facial expression, while Lenita effortlessly pulls of the regality of her character. It is her first attempt at theatre and I truly hope to see more of her in future productions.

Elliott Day does a brilliant job playing Orsino and leaves me in awe already from his entrance. He plays the part very well and pays homage to Shakespearean tradition with grand gestures and heartfelt speeches. Day and Lewis share beautiful chemistry on stage, accompanied by a gorgeous original soundtrack by Thomas Whitcombe. Unfortunately, Whitcombe’s efforts are sometimes broken by random blastings of house music back stage that does little for the audience and makes little sense to the play.

Millie-Jay Phillips-Malley does a wonderfully convincing performance of Sebastian. She captures a sense of masculinity in her characterisation that is rarely seen in gender-blind amateur casts. 

Although Twelfth Night is a comedy, humour is hard to deliver on stage. Sir Toby Belch (Jordan Roebuck), Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Nia Ruby Daniells) and Feste (Sian Billington) mean to feature as the play’s central comic relief, however the attempt at matching Shakespeare’s humour might be the downfall of the production. It seems as if though the directors have a very abrasive sense of humour which manifests itself in senseless stomping and screaming as the characters get more and more drunk. Being loud and brash is not necessarily funny — it lacks wit needed to appeal to a tasteful audience. 

The real comic relief in this production is Malvolio (Christopher Johnson). He approaches humour in a literal but nuanced manner that brings out laughter from everyone in the audience. His monologues are well-directed, but more so, well acted.

It feels like the direction has not considered the trio as three separate people, but rather as one entity. It is not fair on the talented performers who have been left to fend for themselves. This might be a result of one of the directors also being part of the trio. It is hard to direct yourself despite the support from another director, and characterisation is left suffering at the hands of split focus. The character of Feste alternates between comical to suddenly evil and sickly smarmy, performing at least four musical numbers that drag on for just a minute or so too long.

Rostra’s take on Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night is an amalgamation of tradition and modern inspirations. The stage is beautifully decorated with a lighting backdrop, and despite its minimalism it fills the big space in a satisfactory manner. It is obvious that the directors have had a lot of creative ideas, but it seems they sometimes clash or divert the audience’s attention from other ongoing elements.

Despite these little mishaps, Twelfth Night is an enjoyable show with a wonderfully talented cast, and may very well be one of the best Rostra production I have seen so far. 

 

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