Monash Shakespeare Company takes the trend of bringing 400 year old plays to a contemporary era in the most literal way possible, with hysterical performances across the board in their rendition of the dueling plotters that is Twelfth Night.
Rather than being separated in a shipwreck, “identical” twins Viola and Sebastian are teleported hundreds of years into the future and forced to survive in the bizarre world of the early 2000s with hysterical results. Not only is co-directors Emma Telfold and Georgie Mitchell’s concept of time-travel novel in itself, it actually melds quite well with the text, with Viola staring longingly up at the steampunk Tardis as she mourns her brothers lost to time. Along with the intricate time machine, the explosive wall art and hilarious album art of ‘The Duke’ adds energy and humour to James Walker and Katie Clark’s set. Katherine Board’s costumes fittingly appear as if they’ve stepped straight out of a noughties commercial, flooding the stage with rainbows, backwards caps, crocs and double denim. Likewise, the medley of 2000s hits is always hilarious, sometimes distracting and sometimes even moving.
But while the concept itself is cleverly executed, it is the actors who truly make the idea soar. Talia Zipper leads as the cross-dressing heroine Viola, melding longing grief for her brother and infatuation for the Duke with the chaotic humour of random duels and mistaken identity. Her adaptation to our world is a hilarious blend of triumphs and failures, becoming as enamored with cheesy snacks as Orsino and attempting to mimic his laid-back cockiness. Her twin takes the opposite route, with Matthew Schwab’s Sebastian staying a fish out of water even when decked in denim and having his Elizabethan manner quickly win over both lovers and fights.
Sprawled on a fluffy pink rug and skimming through her flip phone, Gabriella Heathcote’s Olivia is engaging in both her pride and growing infatuations. And Julian Mihal’s portrayal of ‘The Duke’ Orsino as a self-absorbed, Eminem-esque figure is hilarious yet somehow also manages to make his slow conversion to Viola’s partner seem natural. In contrast, Semus Horan’s Antonio follows the undercurrent of sadness through the play, with the devoted figure growing more dejected as the play goes on and falling short of his own happy ending.
But while the concept itself is cleverly executed, it is the actors who truly make the idea soar.
With the sheer amount of dueling comedic roles in Twelfth Night, performances run the risk of some of them falling flat; but while watching the ensemble build on each other with such hysterical success makes the very idea seem laughable. Peeping through the stage, obsessively eavesdropping and sculling beer as their chaos unfolds, they’re a delight to watch both individually and as a group. More at home wielding a Tamagochi than a sword, Reilly Holt’s ditzy Sir Andrew Aguecheek is hysterical in his mislead quest to win over Olivia, swinging between joyful cowardice and a awkward malice that confuses his companions. Rebecca Catalano’s deviously clever Maria and Bernd Faverre’s smug drunken Sir Toby are hilarious as plotting ringleaders and their budding relationship built on pranks is often quite sweet. And in a plot of wordplay and tricks the fool reigns supreme, with Elly D’arcy’s Feste acting as a savvy onlooker to the chaos. Jumping back and forth from different subplots, she takes joy in taking their plots as far as she can. The guitar-toting jester also doubles as a musician, with the catchy and powerfully sung performances bringing the gap between the traditional renaissance style and the pop background music. The four unite against Dylan Marshall’s Puritan Malvolio, whose hysterical performance comes from the clash between his pretentious seriousness and his absurdity. His infamous yellow-stockings cause as much laughter among the audience as the scheming characters, and his final fate is certainly unexpected.
With a clever concept and a fantastic cast, Monash Shakespeare Company’s Twelfth Night makes it impossibly easy to get swept up in the waves of time.