Twelfth Night is my favourite Shakespeare play, so, I was intrigued when I came across Twelfth Night Lite, a three-person, hour long version of the show brought to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival by Evoke Productions. How would they tell the at times complicated and weaving plot with so few performers?
Overall, I think they did an admirable job at cutting the play so drastically, while still making it easy to follow. The plot was streamlined, focusing on the love triangle between Olivia (Francesca Firman), Viola (Susie Garvey-Williams) and Orsino (Matthew Leigh). Characters including Sir Toby Belch, Feste and Sir Andrew Aguecheek were cut entirely. This, I think, was the weakness of the play. It felt like something was missing. For instance, character arcs were left unresolved, primarily Malvolio, who is not seen again after his humiliating escapade in the yellow stockings, which was portrayed hilariously. As the lights went down, I felt disappointed we hadn’t seen him declare his promise of revenge. Most frustratingly there were numerous times where the cast would add in lines, including a song sung by Viola to Orsino while they dance. Maybe I’m just a purist, but I feel that if you are cutting Shakespeare down so much, then at least stick to the script.
Despite my reservations about the concept, a big takeaway from this performance was how talented the cast were. They brilliantly differentiated between each character they played, making changes to both their voice and physicality. They also all spoke verse confidently and clearly while injecting it with deep emotion, a rare and very admirable feat! But again, I couldn’t help but feel that much of the nuance of the characters were lost in the cutting of the script. Maria, usually a crucial character, appears only once to explain the letter-plan. But we’re given very little reason for her to hate Malvolio in the first place, as he is portrayed almost sweetly, with little of the venom his character can often possess.
The logistics of having three actors play all the roles was tricky to say the least. This was most apparent than when Viola and Sebastian meet each other at the end of the play. A video of the actress was projected on one of the two movable wooden panels that made up the set as she stood beside it. She would face forward to speak Sebastian’s lines, and backward for Viola’s. This did effectively separate the two, but I couldn’t help wonder why they hadn’t just cast someone else!
Overall, I think the concept was a misfire as, without many of the characters and much of the plot, the experience is like watching the shell of a truly great play but Twelfth Night Lite is certainly a fun hour of entertainment, with many laughs being provided by the strong performers.
Playing until 11th August with further information and tickets available HERE.
Reviewer: Ben Pearson
Reviewed: 5th August 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★★