by Jacob Warn
Welcome to a world of music, of love, and of language. This is a world of drunken revelry and cross-gartered madness, overwriting a history inscribed with the vestiges of war, loss and social change.
Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night is just a comedy. Some say. But it is this kind of thinking that results in the generic hierarchies that discourage serious scrutiny and study of potentially – latently – complex works. It is in the face of this sort of thinking that Brave New World’s first production boldly stands.
The most important and most interesting aspect of glimpsing a play-in-the-making is getting a sense of the group’s dynamics. And, boy, was there a dynamic to speak of. The directorial decision to draw out the physicality of this play finds its energy in a shared excitement for the poet’s text and brilliantly inflected parts. Scenes between the disguised Viola and Lady Olivia course with a venal passion, and flow at an ecstatic tempo; the Clown and Marvolio are like sylphs on Olivia’s shoulders, they are highly defined and highly impressionable characterisations that bring out contrariness in all its incongruous and comedic splendour.
“We are at once at Gatsby’s parties, in Downton Abbey’s cultivated gardens, and with Jeeves at Totleigh Towers.”
Contrariness is at the heart of this production. It is the 1920’s, and difference provokes dramatic conflict that pushes the play onwards until its denouement of social and theatrical levelling. Genders are freely inverted, hierarchical norms upturned, traces of Victorian propriety mocked. With an original score – which anchors us securely in this roaring epoch – and a stately home setting, we are at once at Gatsby’s parties, in Downton Abbey’s cultivated gardens, and with Jeeves at Totleigh Towers.
This production is highly comic, physical and engaging. It is a clever and textually-aware rendering that successfully relocates Shakespeare’s writing in an epoch which it seems to fit – with a level of tailoring to match that of the fantastic costumes – like a glove. Under the directorship of Chloe Cheung (Oriel College, 2nd Year), Twelfth Night is surely set to be a highlight of Trinity Term 2015. With all proceeds from ticket sales going to OxHop, the Oxford-based charity providing care and support to the homeless community, this play has a moral conscience; it holds close to its heart the notion that art and performance are social phenomenon, and that they therefore ought to be socially involved.
Don’t miss this play, or you might just miss something altogether more important than your normal Oxford Garden Play.
Twelfth Night is showing at Oriel College on 16th, 17th & 18th June. Tickets are £7 (£5 concessions) and all proceeds go to OxHop, an Oxford-based charity in support of the homeless community. Tickets can be bought here. Find the Facebook event page for photos, previews and much more here