Strictly Twelfth Night

Arts University Bournemouth [AUB]    King’s Hall, Royal Bath Hotel, Bournemouth Jill Richmond 

 2 March  2023

Shakespeare, some say whether you like his work or not is akin to Marmite. However, whatever side you sit of the yeasty-spread-wordy-bard fence this adaptation directed and devised fantastically by Aileen Gonsalves would leave even the most Shakespeare-weary individual happy to go home having had a great evening. How could you not, when you are given everything? The production is a collaboration between Arts University Bournemouth’s Acting, Costume, Performance Design and Film Costume, and Make-up for Media and Performance BA (Hons) courses. It is, as their website states, live immersive Shakespeare at the Royal Bath Hotel. It is theatre at a high standard in every way with outstanding energy.

I happened to meet Aileen as we arrived unfashionably early and I got to experience her open and friendly nature, something I feel is the catalyst for the creation of this adaptation. We are given a paragraph in the programme of how her idea was formed with questions that beautifully bring Twelfth Night into our modern world and “looks at love in all its guises”. “Does it matter who we love?” Aileen is definitely a director to keep an eye out for in the future.

The play is set in the finale of a reality TV show and we are immersed, as the audience, into the live studio of the show, guided by the wonderful hosts Valentine (Madina Orazbekova) and Curio (Katya Jacobs) who both also take up other parts with great comedy. The set is cleverly designed and the lighting helps set the tone throughout. Twelfth Night, almost as we know it, plays out within the show. Only the consanguineous Viola (Elle Stokes) and Sebastian (Ele Spreckley) do not know that they are on a TV show and the rest of the cast are ‘The Contestants’, ‘Double Agents’ or ‘The Wild Card’ aka Feste. Elle plays the role of Viola with sophistication and strength and a perfectly understated physical comedy. The similarity between Viola and Sebastian is brilliant both visually but also in mannerisms and both give an excellent bombshell scene.

A rousing well-choreographed full cast dance number sets the energy for this romantic comedy, an energy which is manipulated and strengthened with clever directing throughout. If you don’t know Twelfth Night, then as a guide, Viola (disguising herself as a man) falls in love with Orsino who in turn falls in love with Olivia and there is plenty of excitement elsewhere too. Alex Osbourne, playing Orsino, demonstrates not only his professional acting talent but his athletic strength and comedy. Gabriela Chanova, playing Olivia, gives a strong performance full of character and natural stage presence.

The two stand out performances come from Malvolio (Anne Faraday) and Feste (Eleri Celyn) Their scene together is fantastic and separately they also each have moments of brilliance. Anne shows a marvellous array of emotions and sides to the character, bringing hilarity to the role. Eleri performs her own music and her voice is outstanding. Strong supporting performances come from: Beatriz Saramago, who is perfect as Maria; Sir Toby Belch (Kevin Pako), Fabian (Aimiliani Paradisi), Antonio (Esther Knowles) and Lady Andrea (Jester Walker).

The production is definitely a team effort and you will not help but be impressed with the wonderful costumes that clearly allow the actors to colourfully project their characters and the fantastic make-up which provides vibrancy and sparkle (look out for the especially great eye shadows!). You are invited to arrive dressed in 1920s Hollywood glamour, if you wish. Strictly Twelfth Night runs to Saturday 5 March and includes a Saturday matinee performance. Suitable for people aged 11 and over.