Partway through their second national tour, Merely Theatre are currently performing Twelfth Night in rep with Romeo & Juliet using their genderblind company. The cast for this particular performance had a fairly even split, with Tamara Astor and Sarah Peachey opposite Robert Myles, Simon Grujich and David Gerits.
This is probably my favourite Shakespeare play, so I’m always happy to see a production and discover how a different company has put a new spin on things. Twelfth Night is a great one to condense and put on with a smaller cast, as the doubling can really be played up to make it more entertaining – especially with the ideas of disguise running through the play anyway.
From the off it’s clear exactly who everyone is, thanks partly to the characters all being quite distinct entities and also Florence Hazard’s costumes. A real highlight of her design comes in the second act, as Malvolio dons those famous cross-gartered yellow stockings! Performance and design combine with hilarious results.
The use of music is a wonderful bonus, from Feste warming up the audience at the very start (ours was a particularly tuneful bunch) to perform for Orsino, to some flute and accordion playing later on.
The selected cast for this version is simply outstanding, and massively hard-working. Tamara Astor’s Feste is integral to the whole thing; she seems to have a natural urge to entertain, which comes in handy playing the “witty fool”. David Gerits is hugely enjoyable as the drunken user Toby Belch, making a fantastic partnership with Sarah Peachey’s foppish Andrew Aguecheek – the latter also playing a rather flirty Olivia.
Simon Grujich’s charming portrayal of Viola is absolute proof the gender-blind concept is a winner. Grujich makes his character sweet without ever being overly effeminate, and you simply don’t question it for a moment. He also brings a great sense of humour to the part, attempting to deepen his voice to become Cesario and pulling off a brilliant ‘fight’ scene with the help of audience member Matthew.
And an unforgettable performance comes from Robert Myles as the steward Malvolio. Prim and officious to begin with, his letter reading scene shows glimpses of what he’s capable of – and Malvolio’s attempt to woo Olivia, as per ‘her instructions’ is so hilarious you have to gasp for air! Laid (almost) bare in yellow y-fronts, black & yellow striped tights, braces and red ribbons Myles truly is a sight to be seen. The fact that he also plays Sebastian brings an extra hysterical moment in the closing scene of the play.
My verdict? Another top-notch Twelfth Night to add to the collection, with chaos & comedy in equal measure – and some terrific performances all round.
Merely Theatre’s Twelfth Night runs at Greenwich Theatre until 22 April 2017. Tickets are available online or from the box office. Full details of the tour (and Romeo & Juliet) can be found on the official website.