Bell Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night

BELL SHAKESPEARE: Director Lee Lewis certainly put her hand into the beehive when she decided to direct Twelfth Night, but she has emerged unscathed.
Bell Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night
There’s always a murmuring crescendo that comes with Bell Shakespeare; a buzzing swarm of theatre critics and Shakespeare enthusiasts who drone around about the build up to the latest production, bumping absentmindedly into speculation and fiercely flying away from past productions (minus their stings). Director Lee Lewis certainly put her hand into the beehive when she decided to direct Twelfth Night, but she has emerged unscathed. This hilarious production demarcates contemporary Shakespeare from its tried and tested counterparts. Quite boldly, and with no mistake about the emotional connection it will have for his audience, Lewis has transformed the disaster in the play from a shipwreck to a bushfire. This certainly had the potential for failure, but Lewis has managed to keep the bleakness at a level where we are still able to appreciate the famous Bard’s lilting wit and timeless comic prowess, while at the same time knowing the gut-dropping fear of losing someone close. I don’t think I can put it better than Lewis herself who writes in her Director’s notes, “The darkness that lies under the play would be unbearable without the light of laughter.” It’s two-pronged, it’s a fine line, but the strong foundation of the original work allows for tweaking, so why not go for it? The set and music work hand-in-hand to connect the text with the setting, which begins as a mound of donated clothes and television blaring grave news through its snowy broadcast. The torchlight cuts through the dark and works as an excellent opening to what is essentially a piece about searching. Ostensibly, Twelfth Night is a romantic comedy, but the crux of the story is the love that Viola bears for her twin brother. She is alone in the world, and her inability to tell anyone of her sadness because she is pretending to be someone else is easily identifiable in a society where we often wear masks to cover our true feelings. Lewis has cut back some of the text, curtailing a few lines and several complexities from the original work. Whilst this might annoy the hard-core Shakespeare fans, I think it was about time that Bell Shakespeare re-jigged their works in such a way. She certainly hasn’t massacred it, and instead kept it fresh and lively. Cast-wise, there is certainly a rising star in Andrea Demetriades, who plays Viola. Her cheeky grin and impish features are a natural fit for the role, but is is her effortless charisma and intelligence that really shine through. Other performances of note were Max Cullen, whose gentle soul is either an acting masterpiece or a glimpse at the man underneath and Zavelsky as Orsino, who delivers an insightful and engaging performance. Reminiscent of Baz Luhrman’s film adaptation of Romeo & Juliet, the play ends with a static television leaving some sage words of hope as the survivors re-emerge and make their way from stage. This is a final nod to the journey of the characters, and the conclusion to a soulful and irreverent night of entertainment, just as Shakespeare would have intended. Bell Shakespeare's Twelfth Night tours regional and metropolitan centres around Australia until November 27.

Sarah Adams

Friday 3 September, 2010

About the author

Sarah Adams is a media, film and television junkie. She is the former deputy editor of ArtsHub Australia and now works in digital communications - telling research stories across multiple platforms - in the higher education sector. Follow her @sezadams