Friday, September 19, 2008

Twelfth Night, Tricycle

Within a few minutes of this Filter production of Shakespeare's comedy of mistaken identity I knew I was in the middle of something outrageous. We'd entered to theatre to find a double bass centre stage, musical instruments, laptops, a drum kit, a trumpet, a few mini Marshall amps cluttering up the rest – “where are all the actors going to go?” asks one of the audience. The actors meander onto the stage, talking amongst themselves; “Chat a bit longer,” one tells the audience as we quiet in expectation, “we're not ready yet.” After a while they break into a jazz overture, and so begins one of the wildest, most frenetic, upturned, shaken all about versions of a first folio text – the Bard via Charles Mingus.

The fourth wall has rarely found itself so neglected – the audience provide costume, some get slugs of tequila, some are dragged up on stage to dance (yes that was me cavorting like I thought I knew how), at one point pizzas are delivered and passed to those in the upper tier. Meanwhile on stage a cacophony of imagination and rulebreaking guides every twist and turn of the plot. The shipping forecast tells Violio she is in Illyria; a mobile phone rings and Orsino takes the call; two characters crack tins of Special Brew; while most are in modern dress, Sir Toby meanders about drunkenly in full Elizabethan ruff-ness before later collapsing in one of the aisles; Malvolio strips to his boxers at the joy of his mistaken love; all the while crazy shit house rat jazz music is played, supplemented with scene-setting soundscapes eeked out of sample-firing playstation joysticks, feedbacking microphones, cymbals played with cello bows, all created on stage in front of your eyes, gorged on a unrestrained, febrile exuberance and then, just occasionally, a Shakespeare play breaks out.

Ah, the play. Well it happened, or some of it happened, there were mistaken identities, and upturned love affairs and hearts broken and Malvolio, O Malvolio, how he does fall viciously prey to consumption of a broken mistaken heart identity. Who knows how much of the play there is in this Twelfth Night, and in what order. Not me anyway, having spurned the chance beforehand to read the wikipedia synopsis, I barely followed the plot, but it mattered not, because the riotous energy of the show - one that takes up the challenge of making theatre work every inch of its limitations - carries you past the humble considerations of what precisely is going on. It is enough to understand enough to enjoy enough; if it ends abruptly after 90 minutes with someone having happened to somebody, who cares, I went home singing the finale. Here is a musical which never seemed to force its music on its subject (nor, admittedly, its subject onto its music); but which made music its subject, its food of love, and constructed out of that music a bizarre, crazy carnival, worth every crazy, bizarre minute.