Sunday, 11 February 2018

Kickline Touring Theatre Company "Twelfth Night" Exeter Barnfield Theatre Wednesday 7 February - Saturday 24 February 2018

Kickline Touring Theatre Company
"Twelfth Night"
Ben Charles is Officer
Miles Western is Sir Andrew Aguecheek - James Trafford is Curio
Gareth Evans is Fabian - Graham Seed is Malvolio - Perry Foot is Hercule

Will Trafford is Sebastian - Sioned Jones is Olivia - Che Watson is Duke Orsino
Dani Harmer is Viola - Philip Voyzey is Feste - Derek Frood is Sir Toby Belch
Katie Meller is Maria - Dan Ball is Antonio

After twenty years in the business Kickline Touring Theatre have returned to their roots with a classic slice of Shakespeare - "Twelfth Night" or "What You Will". Director Ian Berry has worked out an interpretation with his superb cast which is riveting and entertaining from the first scene to the last.

Even before the action starts, a wild baccanale seems to be taking place behind the scenes with raucous laughter, drunken cheers and the random thudding of legless dancing. The implication that the ensuing tale will be a drunken rampage is spot on, of course.

The famous opening line, "If music be the food of love, play on." is delivered by Che Watson as a very elegantly dressed, but somewhat sozzled, Duke Orsino. Straight away the production strays from the original script. James Trafford as Curio, pre-empting his opening line, relays the instruction literally to an off-stage string ensemble (actually a recording perfectly timed by Amy Spencer). Right on cue we hear music of the late baroque, setting the era of the production to the reign of George I.

Almost immediately the scene changes to a shipwreck in a storm at sea. Will Tippet's lighting converts Riannon Cheffers-Heard's versatile set into the rain lashed sails of a ship, picked out by lightening. Actors with great movement skills create the illusion of thrashing rigging with just three ropes (props: Mike Reddaway). Just audible against the sound of crashing waves is more baroque music - "Storm" from Antonio Vivaldi's "L'Estate", naturally.

Survivors of the Shipwreck in Illyria
Dani Harmer & Gareth Evans
Dani Harmer is Viola, apparently the sole surviving passenger from the wreck. Fortunately the ship's captain, played by a very familiar looking nautical cove, also survives and can answer all her questions about where they are, and who are the local nobility - and therefore the other characters in the play. This is all neatly and succinctly done, laying out the plot clearly. But it is time to move on, back to the present and those drunken revellers.

The sudden appearance of Derek Frood as Sir Toby Belch takes the whole experience in a new and exciting direction. Derek is still sporting the fabulous whiskers and flowing mane he cultivated for the part of Captain Bray in the TV series "Poldark". As Belch, his outrageous and bullet-proof self confidence, largely fuelled by drink, fills the whole stage every time he appears.

His merry crew of followers include Katie Meller as the flirtatious and mischievous Maria, Miles Western as Sir Andrew Aguecheek, the aspiring Belch who falls laughably short of his role model's natural bluster and wit, and the professional clown Feste who is played by Philip Voyzey. Philip has prepared his own musical versions of Shakespeare's songs for himself to sing in the role of Feste, accompanying himself on a dummy harpsichord (which also serves as a platform for the wild posturing of the incorrigible Belch) with perfectly coordinated recorded sound - all his own arrangement. Gold star!

Later they are joined by that mysterious sea captain, now in a new role - Signeur Fabian. The striking features and elegant bearing are instantly recognisable, as it's Gareth Evans - well known in Exeter as the outrageously hilarious comedy drag-queen 'Baby G'. As the dignified but devious Fabian, Gareth has developed a completely new way to mesmerise an audience with his comic movement and acting. A spectacular piece of casting.

The cowardly Aguecheek (Miles Western)
bemoans his injuries from a drunken brawl
to an indifferent Countess Olivia (Sioned Jones)
Looking on are the Abbess (Judyth Aarons),
Hercule (Perry Foot), Antonio (Dan Ball)
Orsino's Officer (Ben Charles)
Viola/Caesario (Dani Harmer)
Against this turbulent backdrop of bibulous slap-stick, several serious characters pursue a familiar Shakespearian plot-line. Viola, to survive in this strange land, has to pass herself off as a man. Now calling herself 'Caesario' she has somehow become Duke Orsino's personal servant, and carries Orsino's messages of love to Belch's niece (and host) Lady Olivia, played by Sioned Jones, with predictably confused results.

Meanwhile Will Trafford appears from time to time as Viola's identical twin brother Sebastian. Contrary to Viola's understanding, Sebastian has also survived the wreck and lives a life separated from the main characters with his nautical friend Antonio (Dan Ball). As Dani is the undisputed star, it was necessary to cast an actor in the part of Sebastian to look very like her.

Will's sumptuous costume is identical to hers. (All these fabulous costumes are provided by the National Theatre and fitted and maintained by Helen Dyer-Greeves and Kate Lyons.) Also his voice and mannerisms have been carefully crafted to match hers so that, although he is clearly a head taller, it is just conceivable that the other characters might not be able to tell them apart.

Tied in knots by his own vanity
Graham Seed is Malvolio
Through all this convoluted narrative, and hilarious horse-play, one character stands out. Graham Seed is the overwheeningly pompous, and painfully tragic, Malvoleo. As Director Ian Berry says, the play could almost be called "The Tragedy of Malvoleo". His misadventures trump every other part of the action. How dearly he would like to elevate his position in society (an outrageous notion in Shakespearian England) and have his love of the Countess Olivia requited.

The disgraceful cruelty of Belch's gang towards this unfortunate man is in no way justified by his eccentric ways or his unbending devotion to his mistress. The problem of bullying was as pernicious in Elizabethan England as it is in the present day. We have to wait until the final scene to see whether he will be relieved from his undignified travails.

Do stay tuned, however, for the final denouement viz-a-viz the confusion of the cross-dressing twins. With consummate skill the four main players Che, Dani, Sioned and Will - with the help of Dan as Antonio, wind up the yarn so neatly that even Malvoleo's trials are briefly forgotten. A splendid scene and the high point of the production.

This delicious romp in the fictitious faraway land of Illyria, is a thoroughly enjoyable spectacle and a perfect exposition of Shakespeare's weaving of complex narratives. All the actors acquit themselves admirably, filling the eye and ear with spectacle and fitting together perfectly like the pieces of a splendid baroque jig-saw puzzle.

The minor players play their part with impressive skill too. James Trafford's Curio is joined by Ben Charles and Will Pearce as convincing but gently caricatured Officers to the Orsino household. Perry Foot is the mysterious Hercule. Judyth Aarons and Natasha Pavey are maids in service to Lady Olivia, and Judyth also doubles as a comedy Abbess licensed to perform marriages - an essential ingredient in any Shakespearian comic tale.

This colourful and entertaining production continues for two more weeks.

From Wednesday to Saturday next week (14-17 February): evening performances at 7.30pm.

There is a matinée on Saturday 17 February at 2.30pm
There is a matinée on Sunday 18 February at 3pm.
On Wednesday, Friday & Saturday 21, 23 & 24 February: evening performances at 7.30pm
There is a matinée on Thursday 22 February at 1.30pm
There is a matinée on Saturday 24 February at 2.30pm.

Full-price tickets are £20.50 (premium seats in rows F & G £29.50)

Concessionary £15 tickets are available (unwaged, student, 60+, U16, disabled)

Details and booking is via the Barnfield Box Office: 01392 270891

Online Booking is via the Barnfield Wesite & TicketSolve

Kickline Touring Theatre Company

Exeter Barnfield Theatre
Wednesday 7 - Saturday 24 February
Director: Ian Berry
Duke Orsino: Che Watson
Countess Olivia: Sioned Jones
Viola (Caesario): Dani Harmer
Malvolio: Graham Seed
Sir Toby Belch: Derek Frood
Sir Andrew Aguecheek: Miles Western
Signeur Fabian: Gareth Evans
Feste the Jester: Philip Voyzey
Sebastian: Will Trafford
Maria: Katie Meller
Antonio: Dan Ball
Wed-Sat 7-10 Feb 7.30pm
Sat 10 Feb 2.30pm Sun 11 Feb 3pm
Wed-Sat 14-17 Feb 7.30pm
Sat 17 Feb 2.30pm Sun 18 Feb 3pm
Wed/Fri/Sat 21/23/24 Feb 7.30pm
Thurs 22 Feb 1.30pm Sat 24 Feb 2.30pm
Tickets: £20.50 (premium rows F/G £29.50)
Concessions: £15 (unwaged, student, 60+, U16, disabled)
Barnfield Box Office: 01392 270891
Online Booking: TicketSolve

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