I've just come back from The Orange Tree where I sat in on the dress rehearsal of Twelfth Night, which goes out on the road to local schools next week.
It's been directed by ex-graduate Katie Henry and the four actors work their nuts off to create a high octane non-stop half an hour romp of a show, however there lies the rub.
The energy and commitment are unquestionable, but the run felt fast and flat. Slapstick constantly overran poetry and key moments lacked punctuation and weight. The constant physicalisation led to some major focus pulling and I began to wonder whether the plan was to out energise eleven and twelve year olds with rapid fire delivery and perpetual motion. If it is I think there is an under estimation of the power that good clear storytelling with rhythm, poise and significance can have on even a pre-pubescent audience.
At the heart of the play is a joke that goes wrong. To me, the right tenor seems to be that you must celebrate the joke, enjoy Malvolio's humiliation, and recognise too late that the what begins as a harmless wind up quickly snowballs into gross cruelty. For Maria and Belch read Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand. It's a rich area for school children to explore.
If the audience don't feel the weight and wound of 'I'll be revenged on the whole pack of you!' you lose a dimension. Very few of us are so full of magnanimous grace as to not relate in some tiny way to Malvolio's desire for grandeur and, however much we may oppose his suffocating puritanism, his comeuppance only carries a warning, if it is a partly ourselves we are watching.
Of course the reason for an open dress is to address these issues and fundamentally the show is intact and solid. There are some intelligent moments of audience intervention and children, as well as adults, will always delight to see a man in yellow knickers and a fixed smile, prance demonically about the stage.