Review: Twelfth Night, Filter at Tricycle Theatre

“Hey, who governs here?”

This is another resuscitation of Filter’s Twelfth Night and its third residency at the Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn. Filter recently appeared in London and toured the UK with their version of Three Sisters, not one I was a fan of and the RSC’s most recent Twelfth Night which I really enjoyed, only left the Duke of York’s in February, but I had heard all sorts of good things about this, so I booked myself a ticket. 

Things started brilliantly with a random jamming session and then the eventual arrival of the shipwrecked Viola, clutching handfuls of election leaflet, uttering the words at the top of the review, “who governs here”, it was a genuinely very funny moment and set the mood perfectly. The focus is clearly on the inventiveness with which Filter approach this well-known play. Filter are known for their sonic creativity and the stage is littered with instruments and amps, the cast in modern dress, it’s clear this is no traditional Shakespearean production. So many anarchic tricks are employed that it is hard not to love the heart of this show. There’s a deal of audience participation, yours truly was pulled onstage and had balls thrown at him and his Velcro helmet, others were invited to do tequila shots, we’re also invited to sing along and complete lines, a speech is delivered from a mobile phone held up to a microphone, information is provided by radio, there’s a four way battle of sound’s a whole load of carefully organised chaos and often great fun. 

However, there’s no two ways about it, you need a very solid understanding of the story before you see this. In terms of storytelling, this Twelfth Night is rather obtuse. The play has been distilled down to 90 minutes which in itself isn’t a problem. The essence of the story remains, Viola is shipwrecked in a strange land, assuming her twin brother has died, and to survive, she disguises herself as a man but finds herself torn between love for Orsino and the attentions of Olivia: the characters of Olivia’s court also remain. Where the issues lie is in the cast of six actors (supplemented by three musicians) doubling up to often bewildering effect, as so little explanation is offered and delineation between characters presented.

Gemma Saunders has great fun as both Maria and Feste but there is so little between them, likewise with Jonathan Broadbent’s Orsino and Aguecheek. Whereas on the one hand, it cleverly shows up the similarities in certain characters, the desire to humiliate Malvolio in the former pair and the repressed passion for Olivia in the latter, on the other, the deconstructed nature of the production means that traditional narrative has been eschewed in favour of inventiveness and as a result, it requires a deal of concentration to work out which characters are onstage: far too often it just isn’t clear.

Poppy Miller as Viola (and indeed a much reduced Sebastian) is the only one who really touched me with her performance. The others, including Ferdy Roberts as a rockstar wannabe Malvolio were amusing rather than deeply entertaining, as it’s generally about the jamming rather than the nuances of Shakespeare, sometimes to its detriment.

In the final analysis, I was a little disappointed that style seemed to take precedence over substance: having watched Told By An Idiot’s Comedy of Errors recently which succeeded in combining inventiveness and music with strong storytelling, I couldn’t help but draw the comparisons and find much more clarity there. But it is lots of fun and you get pizza and tequila shots... So I can recommend this but with reservations: make sure you are very familiar with the story beforehand. 

Running time: 90 minutes
Programme cost: £2
Note: if you’re the shy retiring type, avoid sitting near the front!

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