Twelfth Night Live by The Maltings Theatre blends classic Shakespeare comedy with a 1920’s visual style inspired by Fitzgerald, and throws in a modern pop soundtrack, featuring hits by Lady Gaga and Brittany Spears.
The plot closely follows Shakespeare’s original play focusing on the two major storylines. One is a love triangle between one of two separated twins, Viola (Flora Squires), a popular actress Olivia (Emma Wright) and Captain Orsino (Will Forester). Another – a cruel joke with a fake love letter, involving Malvolia, Olivia’s assistant (Faith Turner). The setting however, is transposed from land to sea, with the action taking place on the SS Illyria cruise liner, and the time is the 1920s.
Delivered via Zoom as a series of live and pre-recorded scenes, the show offers as much diversity of sets and mise-en-scenes as you can expect from a digitally performed play. Furthermore, it invites the audience to participate in a couple of the scenes (and provides us with a list of items to take on board, and of cocktails to mix before the show).
Numerous musical interludes, with actors singing and playing instruments, to camera are a strong side of this production. They add some diversity to the picture on the screen and help to make the show more lively and light. Bravo, musical director Tom Cagnoni.
Digital shows remind us how crucial the quality of acting becomes. The cast need to be convincing enough to keep the audience watching, but thanks to the webcam we see them in much closer quarters than we would on stage, making the demand for authenticity even more important. In this digital Twelfth Night, the actors meet this criteria with varying success. Performances by Faith Turner (Malvolia) and Will Pattle (Fabian) were truly impressive, while a couple of others felt over the top.
On the tech front, the cast and creative team behind the show have clearly pushed themselves to create a truly virtual piece of theatre, especially when you consider that this is not a play intended to be shown digitally, but an adaptation of the stage version, premiered at The Maltings Theatre last year. They have used many of the advanced Zoom features to help make us feel like we are moving between spaces on the ship and some pre-recorded videos and animations helped to create that vibe.
However, use of backgrounds often made video quality worse than it could be and occasionally switching the screens on and off was not as smooth as they have hoped for. Still, the struggle of some viewers to get the correct settings for the call and figure out their cameras and mics looked charming. It reminded me that theatre, unlike TV or on-demand videos, is essentially a collective experience.
If you haven’t yet dipped your toe into a virtual theatre performance during lockdown, then, Twelfth Night Live is your perfect chance, while it can never fully replicate the real thing, this production comes as close as is possible.