Theatre review: Twelfth Night

The non-binary nature of human love is explored in Shakespeare's classic play.

Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, or What You Will is a romantic comedy in which deceptions of identity allow for the exploration of gender roles and various types of loves and desires. The Hayman Theatre Company, which is comprised of students studying Theatre Arts at Curtin University, Western Australia, produced the festive comedy under the direction of Michael McCall.

The play is set in the kingdom of Illyria and begins when twins, Viola and Sebastian, are separated during a shipwreck. Viola disguises herself as the boy, Cesario, and becomes servant of the Duke Orsino, with whom she quickly falls in love. However, the Duke is in love with the Countess Olivia but when he sends Cesario/Viola to woo Olivia on his behalf, the Countess falls in love with Cesario. Ah, ‘If music be the food of love, play on.’

The performance history of Twelfth Night is extensive and various interpretations explore the theme of love through the uncertainties of human ambition, appearance and identity. Director Michael McCall shares that the company decision at the outset was ‘to draw the audience into the heart of this outsider ethos’. The notion of the non-binary production invites engagement with characters as individuals seeking to love and be loved, regardless of identities and roles, or gender and sexuality. The vulnerabilities of characters undulate under the sensitive direction of McCall.

The intimacy of the black box theatre disarmed actors and audience members alike. A lovely opening scene created a seascape with haze, music and gentle lighting; with blended contemporary elements a harbinger of stylistic choices to follow. Performers took a little while to make eye contact with audience members but once the performance was underway, the energy of the actors was activated, and dialogue sparkled with fast-paced witticisms; actors taking evident pleasure in the text.

A practical set design by Sam Bar-Ari and Annalisa Ciccini gave scope for actors’ movement in the space. Raised blocks stage right mirrored blocks stage left, creating potential for movement across levels. Props by Thomas Tasovoc and Jack Brown were versatile and included removable trees, glassware and bottles, and even a shopping trolley filled with garbage bags. Hayley Smith’s lighting design was effective in enhancing narrative elements. Costumes by Kiri Siva helped to identify characters and accentuate identities.

Rebecca Haywood embraced the duality of Viola/Cesario with delicacy and strength. The role of Mavolio – which became Mavolia – was played with fierce sensitivity by Cat Broom. Elysha Hayes (Olivia) energised the stage with her gentle passions. Oliver Charlton (Sir Andrew Aguecheek) was an absolute comic delight and the performer’s interactions with Alex Comstock (Sir Toby Belch) generated some of the most engaging and humorous moments in the play. At times the differences in the height and shape of the actors allowed for amusing interactions between characters and was a strength of movement direction; at other times gesture and mannerisms required subtleties of meaning to be communicated through body movement.

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The play ends with marriage for the main characters, despite the confusion of identities and sexualities: a curiously staged conclusion or simply that ‘Journeys end in lovers meeting.’

Curtin University’s Theatre Arts students performed with focus and commitment, the result an intimate and entertaining production of Shakespeare’s romantic comedy.

Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare
Hayman Theatre Company
Curtin University, Western Australia 
Director: Michael McCall
Production Manager: Stephen Carr
Stage Manager: Ella Wakeman
Deputy Stage Manager: Cait Griffiths
Lighting Designer: Hayley Smith

Wardrobe: Kiri Siva
Wardrobe assistants: Olivia Fellows and Samantha Dewar
Lighting Operator: Katharina Briden
Properties: Thomas Tasovoc and Jack Brown
Set: Sam Bar-Ari and Annalisa Ciccini
Cast: Rebecca Haywood, Rhys Healy, Benjamin Taylor, Tully Jones, Jade Woodhouse, Alex Comstock, Oliver Charlton, Elysha Hayes, Cat Broom, Chiara Hadi, Angus Price, Adam Gannon, Stephen Carr

Twelfth Night was performed from 26-30 April 2022.

Lucinda Coleman is an Adjunct Lecturer (Research) and sessional Lecturer in Performance at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts, Edith Cowan University.