Last week, The Movement Theatre Company blessed Norwich with their compelling performance of Shakespeare’s comedy, Twelfth Night. The adaptation was decidedly down to earth, and fittingly so with the Playhouse itself. Although the theatre is Norwich’s most modern; with exposed beams, a cosy bar, and an unassuming atmosphere, the venue radiates a refreshing modesty.
In the play’s accompanying literature the director Rory Attwood reveals startlingly honest criticisms of previous contemporary productions of the play. He condemns past performances, and mocks their audiences, saying: “Twelfth Night’s mechanism is trap-shaped. It shows us the callousness of self-indulgence and the suffering it can cause, but it also seduces us into it. Most of the play’s comedy – most of our pleasure – is pitilessly at the expense of the characters […] Twelfth Night makes us laugh at people for being exactly what we show ourselves to be when we laugh at them: self-absorbed, self-indulgent short of compassion”. He concludes by assuring us that his production “is an attempt to recalibrate the mechanism of Shakespeare’s most complex comedy, to rediscover a bleaker, sadder, more confrontational play, but one that strikes the heart of something: something, hopefully, that matters”.
With this warning, Attwood’s conflation of comedy and bleak realism commences, with the voice of a young boy singing a rather unpleasing and melancholy tune. The bleak, sad, and confrontational nature to which Attwood refers is certainly present throughout, offering a strong contrast to the scenes of pure hilarity and bawdy absurdity. The character of Malvolio embodies this juxtaposition, as he plays the role of the love-struck servant particularly humorously, whilst he later confronts the audience with an uncomfortable crying scene. Similarly, the clown does not play a conventional role, but is presented in an almost awkward and creepy manner, highlighting the play’s attempts to question expectations and appearances.
The audience received Attwood’s adaptation well, for the theatre was filled with unrestrained laughter and eager engagement throughout. With few costume changes, a simple stage-set, and the cast unashamedly joining their audience in the bar mere minutes after the play’s close, this production was a million miles away from the gimmicky nature of the West End, but all the better for it.