Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre: Twelfth Night, Re-imagined – Performance Review

1180458426

Iain Johnstone leads the Twelfth Night cast as Feste in a musical rendition (Credit: Johan Persson)

by Rachel Creaser
Star rating

*****
Same stage and sunshine, but a new adventure each year at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre’s ‘Re-imagined’.

Around this time last year, I attended The Winter’s Tale: re-imagined for everyone aged six and over. I recall (helped by re-reading my five-star review of the show) having a great time.

With the ethos the same each year, it could be feared that the ‘Re-imagined’ shows get samey or stagnant. This is definitely not at all the case with Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre: the energy and techniques used to deliver the desired outcome for ‘Re-imagined’ feel completely fresh. There’s an ease in what ‘Re-imagined’ does to connect with young audiences; the relationship between Shakespeare and young people isn’t forced – it’s genuine.

I felt that Twelfth Night had a slight more sophistication about it than A Winter’s Tale, which is still had the age-appropriate introductions to characters and plot, they felt more part of the world of the play – character’s introduced themselves in character, but in the third person. The production is colourful, energetic and fun without being brash.

One of the most enjoyable elements was the live music. Feste (played by Iain Johnstone) playing the accordion added a atmospheric ‘folksy’ feel to the piece. It also helped the audience dance participation feel more at home within the play. One of the ways in which this felt like a real ensemble piece was how the actors swapped instruments – once even during mid-song.

985281377

Sarah Ridgeway and Guy Lewis as parted twins Viola and Sebastian (Credit: Johan Persson)

Performances from the whole cast were very enjoyable and engaging: Sarah Ridgeway’s ‘boy’ impersonation was funny, but not overdone or distracting; Riann Steele had great confidence and presence as Olivia; and Wayne Cater’s drunken Sir Toby Belch and Iain Johnstone’s Feste and pirate Antonio added darker notes to what was largely a fun and upbeat character make-up.

The set evoked the feel of a folk-esque funfair. The ‘love-o-metre’, which rang each time a character fell in love, was a fun set piece but also helpful at marking key moments in the narrative.

This production acts as a great introduction to Shakespeare for young people: it has mistaken identity, love, madness, humour and a man in yellow stockings.

Even if the rain had poured down, I can’t imagine that I would have enjoyed the show any less.

Twelfth Night re-imagined for everyone aged six and over runs until 12 July. There is an accompanying education resource pack available on the website, containing rehearsal images and post-show activity ideas: https://openairtheatre.com/production/twelfth-night-reimagined

Shakespeare’s Globe: The Merchant of Venice – performance review

The Merchant of Venice (Credit: Ellie Kurttz)

The Merchant of Venice (Credit: Ellie Kurttz)

Star rating
***
By Rachel Creaser, TD editorial assistant

Currently playing at Shakespeare’s Globe is The Merchant of Venice – part of the theatre’s Playing Shakespeare with Deutsche Bank season, now in its eighth year. It provides 17,000 free tickets to state-funded London secondary school students. Subsidised tickets for schools from outside London have also been made available – 8,400 for this particular production.

This production of The Merchant of Venice has been specifically created with an audience of 11 to 16 year olds in mind. The Playing Shakespeare initiative allows students the opportunity to experience Shakespeare live, and for some this may be the first time they’ve seen the Bard’s work in action: and it’s a great first experience.

There was lots of energy in the production right from the off – as I made my way to my seat, I was accompanied by live musicians (who were fantastic throughout), watching the cast dance on stage, and move round the space interacting with the audience. This initial connection and atmosphere helps to ward off any feelings that Shakespeare and his ‘olde worlde’ language are off limits to young people.

The story follows Bassanio who is hoping to win the heart of wealthy heiress Portia, who is looking for a suitor. Lacking funds, Bassanio turns to his good friend Antonio for help with money to pursue his love interest. Antonio, acting as a guarantor, secures a loan for Bassanio with Jewish moneylender Shylock, who agrees to charge no interest – but, if the debt cannot be repaid, Antonio must repay Shylock with a pound of his flesh. When Antonio’s ships are reported lost at sea – his only source of income to repay his loan to Shylock – he is brought before a court of law to plead his case.

Both Bassanio and Antonio look as if they’ve stepped out of an episode of Made in Chelsea in their sharp suits, and Portia is also decked out in stylish dresses and heels. These modern flecks help to make what is a relevant story to this era seem even more pertinent.

Catherine Bailey as Portia was enjoyable to watch – both confident and commanding, while still providing moments of wit. Mark Kane also had a great stage presence; particularly as the rather goofy clown-like Launcelot Gobbo – he received the biggest laughs of the evening.

This production is a great jumping off point for exploring the themes of the play further: Ognen Drangovski’s portrayal of Shylock sought audible sympathy from the audience, so it would be interesting to discuss with students how they felt Shylock was treated by the other characters. And what implications they felt his Jewish faith brought to the story. Also, what did they think was more important to Shylock:  money or his daughter Jessica?

The show’s microsite is just as user friendly and enjoyable as the Globe’s usual offerings, so take a visit to make the most of the resources available: http://2014.playingshakespeare.org.