Review: Twelfth Night, Or What You Will (Sport For Jove Theatre)

rsz_1941449_10152310338275729_1124735746_oVenue: Seymour Centre (Chippendale NSW), Mar 27 – Apr 12, 2014
Playwright: William Shakespeare
Director: Damien Ryan
Actors: Abigail Austin, Anthony Gooley, Bernadette Ryan, Christopher Stalley, Christopher Tomkinson, Damien Strouthos, Edmund Lembke-Hogan, Eloise Winestock, Francesca Savige, George Banders, James Lugton, Megan Drury, Michael Pigott, Robin Goldsworthy, Sam Haft, Teresa Jakovich, Terry Karabelas, Tyran Parke
Image by Seiya Taguchi

Theatre review
There are many ways to stage a Shakespearean play, and the discussion on the different approaches that artists take, is also a discussion on the nature of theatre. Sport For Jove’s production of Twelfth Night is about spectacle and entertainment. It is about skills and techniques from different theatrical disciplines collaborating for a live event that fascinates the senses and amuses the mind. This cast and crew are immersed in a wonderland of freedom, where the best of their talents are drawn out by a spirit of wild playfulness inspired by Shakespeare’s writing, resulting in a work overflowing with conviviality and colour.

There are no deep meanings and big messages in this story, in fact it is very silly. Director Damien Ryan takes the opportunity to remove himself from conventional emphasis on moralistic learnings, politics and intellectualism, and gives us a show that challenges the limits of artistic creativity and the use of the imagination. He seeks to impress not with what is being said, but how things can be said. It is about performance, and presentation. In other words, it is about exploring theatre in the ways it is distinct from other art forms and other media, using theatre to work in a way that nothing else can emulate.

Actor Robin Goldsworthy as Malvolio is quite frankly, faultless. Here is an actor with a very big hat full of comic devices, and he pulls everything out of it for a performance that tickles every funny bone in every conceivable way. Goldsworthy gives a simple character the most complex of treatments that surprises and outsmarts us at every turn. He works hard to regale us, and we are simply and thoroughly enthralled. The range and conviction he displays in this role, along with his extraordinary energy and timing, are breathtaking. This is a Malvolio not to be missed.

Megan Drury as Olivia is delightful. She finds a balance between glamour and absurdity, creating a character that makes us laugh and fall in love simultaneously. Drury’s stage presence is powerful, and there is a boldness in her demeanour that effectively prevents Olivia’s femininity from ever being seen as weak or twee. Anthony Gooley plays Orsino with extraordinary flamboyance, and a sex appeal that is both alluring and hilarious. There is a sense of danger that comes with Gooley’s brave impulsive style, which always seems to be ready for the unexpected, that in turn keeps us riveted and on our toes. Sir Andrew Aguecheek is played by Michael Piggott, who is an extremely physical actor. It is a joy to see the combination of agility and wit in his mode of performance, and the refreshing modern sensibility he introduces, gives the show a very cool edge.

All design elements in the production are terrific. From sound and lights, to sets and costumes, all details are cleverly considered and beautifully executed. They do not upstage the actors, but they do not play second fiddle either. Nothing we see or hear is left to chance. Each moment is crafted with a desire for richness, if not perfection. This is a show that does not take us for fools, and we are never asked to make allowances for anything.

If theatre is about the live experience, of being in a space with artists firing on all cylinders, and having all our senses intrigued and brought to life, Sport For Jove’s accomplishment is outstanding. Shakespeare is revered the world over, but it should not only be about celebrating the playwright’s words. A playwright’s work is only as great as the best physical manifestation it can inspire, and this production of Twelfth Night shows just how much amazing possibility resides in his legacy.