Review: The Faction’s Twelfth Night, New Diorama ***

The Faction’s first play in their winter Rep Season at the New Diorama Theatre offers a more modern slant on Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. Director Mark Leipacher has capitalised on his skills in award-winning ensemble work to interject some interesting angles on a variety of scenes, which serve to amuse and intrigue.

The classic story however remains the same. Viola disguises herself as Cesario, lamenting her unrequited love for new master Orsino, and unwittingly winning the affections of Olivia in the process. In a somewhat updated version – although precisely in which era this production has been set is not clear, given the varied range of costumes and an occasional spot of melodrama perhaps aimed more at Shakespeare’s original audiences than to ours – The Faction present a tale of love, loss, and devilish pranks. The black-box space, with no set and sparse props, also works to elevate what really matters – the text, the performances, and the ensuing story.

well-observed comic-timing, and imaginative characterisation

Some performances in particular stand out. Jonny McPherson as the bumbling buffoon Aguecheek, and Richard Delaney as a Hitler-esque Sir Toby Belch, are excellent, carrying the production with their idiotic revelling. With well-observed comic-timing, and imaginative characterisation, the pair – alongside Gareth Fordred’s pitiful Malvolio – shine, simply lighting up the stage with their performances. Haunting live music from Lachlan McCall as Feste adds to the atmosphere, tinging the stage with mournful melancholy – a nostalgic throwback to the Romantic era.

Yet despite the achievements of the ensemble, and some knock-out performances, this production still feels lacking. The richness of Shakespeare’s text is not always delivered with lightness of touch – or else, the subtle humour and imagery that characterise Shakespeare’s language is missing altogether, leading to some rushed or bland moments that could have otherwise been quite touching. That said, other moments were entirely accessible, revealing the true predicaments of fully-realised characters. It is for this reason, alongside the boldly implemented ensemble work, that the production is redeemed, making the first play of The Faction’s Rep Season worth a visit.

*** (3 stars)
Runs in repertory until February 18th
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