If music be the food of love, then… well party on. Osino's opening line uttered by Jonathan Broadbent, gave us excess of it, creating an alcohol-fuelled hedonistic student rave of a production. Filter Theatre tore up the rules and recreated Shakespeare in an anarchic energised form where the audience are part of the misrule.
Illyria was modernised into a a live Twelfth Night fusion of rock gig complete with electric guitars, booze, plenty of feedback – but no cocaine or tobacco.
And yet on closer inspection it was still Shakespeare – although following the text was difficult as whole scenes were cut to make way for the business of comedy and improvisation. Despite the seeming chaos, it was controlled and kept in rhythm by the play's ring master: Jonathan Broadbent as Orsino and Aguecheek.
I had previously seen the show in 2008 at the Tobacco Factory in Bristol where the show was performed in the round in the more condensed low-ceilinged auditorium. In the much spacier portals of the Theatre Royal and with the house lights left on the production lost some of its intensity. The cast worked hard in connecting with the audience – going out in to the auditorium and pulling volunteers on to the stage – using the stalls as another performance area – and generally treating the audience as friends and extras.
The cut down version of the text, coupled with the improvised feel and informal setting apparently originated from the play's minimal creation and rehearsal time of only a few days as part of the RSC's Complete Works programme
Broadbent was in commanding form. Tumbling somersaults for the back trick one moment, staggering drunk as Andrew Aguecheek at another, and sitting quietly on the set as people arrived sipping a cup of tea.
Ferdy Roberts as an air-guitar playing Malvolio, full of pomposity and self-love created several show-stopping moments – including when he breaks up Sir Toby's party – which included members of the audience. His transformation into the yellow-stockinged stalker of Olivia (played by a testy Victoria Huseley) was cringingly accurate in all his mirror-gazing narcissism.
Poppy Miller as Viola was suitably in shock from the shipwreck amid the shipping forecast foretelling rain, rain and more rain. Like an uninvited guest at a wedding she stumbled uncertainly into the chaos, borrowing a coat from an audience member and playing her part in the unfurling comedy with a mix of disbelief and innocence. And unusually for this play she also played her brother Sebastian – which meant for a moment in the final act I was confused as there was no visual difference – just a drop in octave, a hunch of the shoulders and a blokish slouch.
Oliver Dimsdale as Sir Toby Belch – the only actor dressed in Jacobean garb partied like only a permanent drunk can. Dimsdale is also the co-artistic director (along with Ferdy Roberts) of Filter Theatre – the company behind this long-running production. The set was a sort of rock gig rehearsal room, complete with musicians, bottles of Tequila, empty takeaway wrappers, trailing cables and microphones. The cut down version of the text, coupled with the improvised feel and informal setting apparently originated from the play's minimal creation and rehearsal time of only a few days as part of the RSC's Complete Works programme.
With the finale orchestrated by Gemma Saunders as the fool – we even had a rock gig style ending with Gemma introducing each actor to their applause to the steady beat of the backing band. It was hugely entertaining.
Tom Haines' soundscapes and live music gave the play its backdrop – however rock bands have a love of video and an insatiable thirst for drugs and lots of sex – but these were missing. Perhaps it was something to do with the show's appeal to schools. It didn't matter, as the energy, inventiveness and strong performances made this an exceptional and creative version of the comedy of mistaken identity and sexual confusion.
Theatre Royal Bath
Runs until 19 June 2010