Friday, March 1

Twelfth Night – Liverpool Theatre Festival

The Boaty Theatre Company’s Twelfth Night is a pirate themed version of Shakespeare’s classic comedy of unrequited love and mistaken identities. Live music, physical comedy and a reinterpretation of the use of gender in the play, make this an original and fun performance which is suitable for the whole family.

The set features a barrel table and bar stools, giving this version of Illyria a feeling of Nassau during the reign of the pirates, and this version of the play features its very own Pirate Queen, Captain Orsina. The Captain is deeply in love with Countess Oliva, who is grieving for her father and brother while trying to maintain order on the island with the help of her overseer, Malvolia. In the meantime, a violent storm shipwrecks twins, Viola and Sebastian, each of whom assumes the other one has perished.

Viola, concerned for her safety on the strange and pirate-ridden island, she takes on the persona of Cesario and begins working for Captain Orsina. Her most important duty is helping the Captain to woo the Countess, but it isn’t long before Oliva falls for Cesario. In the meantime, Viola is falling in love with the Captain, but as Orsina believes Viola is a man, the Captain tries to resist her charms and continues to pursue Oliva.

As the confusion increases, Olivia’s servants seek to take revenge on Malvolia in response to her strict and uptight rules of conduct. A forged letter leads Malvolia to believe that Oliva is in love with her, after which she enthusiastically dons yellow stockings and excitedly transforms from a dour bore to a lively and vivacious flirt. Olivia believes Malvolia is quite ill and releases her into the custody of Sir Toby who continues to aggravate poor Malvolia, who is quite heartbroken by Olivia’s rejection.

The piece opens with an original musical performance with physical theatre representing the devastating storm which separates the twins. The Pirate Band, who remain on stage throughout the piece, integrate with the story by participating in the acting and wearing pirate costumes.

The original language of the play has been used, with some use of modern language to add comedy and opportunities for audience participation in the piece. These interjections are a little disorientating, causing a interference in the Shakespearean atmosphere of the piece. It might have been nice on these occasions to emphasise the pirate theme of the play and use language more associated with the genre rather than contemporary phrases.

Sir Toby is excellent, and gives an outstanding performance as the drunken relation of Countess Olivia in each scene he appears in. Very funny he provides lots of physical comedy and has good chemistry with the other characters, particularly Sir Andrew and Festia.

Captain Orsina has excellent presence and with this and her elaborate costume, demands attention whenever she is onstage. Costumes are a high point of this piece overall, creating the image of a pirate crew and the people around them. Countess Olivia’s presence is also very good, and her determined persona is portrayed very well throughout.

The maid is very good, particularly when she pretends to be Countess Oliva when Cesario comes to woo her on Orsina’s behalf. Cesario’s musical performance at this point, like all of the musical performances in the piece, is very good. Festia’s vocal ability is particularly good and her harmonies with Cesario are very nice.

Malvolia’s comic performance is the second half is excellent and it is very easy to sympathise with her after the bullying of Sir Toby and the servants pushes her to the edge. The second half has far more comedic moments, with the reluctant, drunken duel between Sir Andrew and Cesario being another high point.

Twelfth Night is a fun and comical show which puts a new spin on several elements of this well-known Shakespearean play. The pirate theme could have been developed further, both in terms of language and scenes of sword fighting, treasure hunting and other behaviour associated with the pirate genre. However, the piece is well performed overall, and the songs are a fun addition, though some consideration could have been given to more original music or songs which were more fitting with the themes of the piece. Very funny throughout, this is a nice and family friendly show which introduces Shakespeare to a new generation in an enjoyable way.

Reviewer: Donna M Day

Reviewed: 11th September 2021

North West End UK Rating: ★★★