To continue their ‘Shakespeare 400’ celebrations, classical theatre company Scena Mundi last Friday performed their new four-man abridged version of Twelfth Night, in the green surroundings of Albert Square Garden.
In an inspired turn, it is presented as a ‘play within a play’. The four cast members appear as versions of the “rude mechanicals” from A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Masters Martin, Ned, Phil & Jack. Whilst they, unlike the Athenians from the original, are actually experienced actors, this approach allows for them to get away with having few props & costumes. And if things don’t run perfectly smoothly, this also fits within the concept.
If you were lucky enough to catch their full-length version at the French Protestant Church (Soho Square) in the spring, you will recognise some of the most iconic moments. There are some bits that just can’t be lost – for the story’s sake and just for their sheer brilliance. An obvious standout being Malvolio finding & reading the letter from ‘Olivia’, and then later on appearing in yellow stockings!
Martin Prest reprises his hilarious portrayal of the butler, as well as taking on the roles of Sebastian & the Sea Captain. Jack Christie also keeps his part of Sir Toby Belch – and brings a very original take to the lady Olivia! Pip Brignall & Edward Fisher switch their roles from Soho’s production, playing Feste & Orsino. Brignall also takes on Viola, and Fisher is Sir Andrew Aguecheek. In addition, Emma Hall (a different one!) is Mistress Flute – providing musical accompaniment throughout the play.
For me, the concept is absolutely bang on. There is always the chance that an abridged version, with a small cast, could descend into confusion – but the story is kept as simple as possible, providing maximum entertainment. Having the Mechanicals put on the play brings that little something extra; a nice in-joke for Shakespeare fans, as well as a way of introducing newbies to the piece.
This being their first public performance, there are obviously bits to iron out here & there. As I said, the concept does allow for things to go wrong & the audience to still be enthralled, though it would benefit from a bit more slickness. Something which I’m sure will develop over a few more shows – and perhaps different performance spaces will assist in this too. Having said that, it lasted for just about an hour and sitting outdoors in early summer sunshine (yes, the rain held off!) provided a wonderful atmosphere. This sort of production is key in making Shakespeare more accessible to different audiences, and the volume of young families in the crowd showed this one did its job rather well.
I hope to be able to see this particular play from the Mechanicals again – but, if not, it would be fantastic if they expanded their repertoire to include some more of Shakespeare’s work. There is a lot to choose from, after all, and with Scena Mundi we know it will be in the safest of hands.
Scena Mundi are available for hire – if you would like great classical theatre at an event, your workplace, or even within the comfort of your own home, they would be happy to provide it. Be it poetry readings, full plays, abridged versions or extracts, Scena Mundi can create the programme just for you. For more information & a quote, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org