Twelfth Night: The garden party of the summer

As a rule, a warm balmy evening, picnic rugs, wine and crackers laden with cheese are all conducive to a great night. Then add a playful and reactive cast, a classic love story, some 80’s classics and by-gosh; you’ve got yourself a hit.

Melbourne Shakespeare Company’s production of William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night is set up in Central Park, Malvern East. It takes the classic tale and sets it against the grassy knoll of the parkland resulting in a great summer night out.

The cast immediately demands our attention adorned in the luxurious textures and bright colours of the pseudo-traditional garments. Then, they all at once break into song.

I was really not expecting an acoustic version of One Republic’s ‘Chasing Stars’ to be part of the opening musical number but I was enthralled as the cast danced to the music. You could just see the jealousy of passing dog walkers as they yearned to cross the bunting flagged domain of the stage and sit in our gleeful and giggly audience.

As the story goes, a shipwreck causes two twins Viola (Meg Mikibbin) and Sebastian (Saxon Gray) to be wrenched from each other’s lives and plunged onto the foreign shores of “Malvernia” – a cheeky wordplay on the suburb of which the stage was set.  Viola seeks gainful employment within the court and assumes the identity of a man by wearing a hat and pants, and changing her name to Cesario. What follows is a series of misadventures, mistaken identities and many great musical numbers.

The songs that stuck fondly in my mind was a very Australian rendition of  ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’ by Marvin Gaye and The Cat Empire’s ‘Wine Song’, a boozy scene with much faux wine spraying from plastic flagons.

The cast is full of life and bounce off each other effortlessly. I give special mention to Sir Andrew played by Mitch Ralston, who is concurrently a noble sir and the ultimate train-wreck. He’s got a cracker of an accent and a penchant for sculling wine from the bottle. Kala Gare who plays Olivia gives another standout performance. Olivia is hopelessly in love with Cesario, not knowing that HE is actually a SHE. She is obsessed and giddy, and it is a familiar feeling for many.

This play, for all its mistaken identities, could have made a comment or two about what it actually means to be a man. Is it really just pants and hat and a deep voice that can fool one into thinking that She was a He? It feels very simplified. However, that is perhaps too murky of a debate in our day and age to fit into a 90-minute run.

All in all Twelfth Night is a story about falling hopelessly in love with the wrong person. With a stunning sunset and a cool breeze, the heat of the day burns off and the play ends with a glorious musical send off. It is a slapstick soulful fiesta much like a raucous garden party that we, the audience, have accidentally stumbled upon.

Julia Frecker

Melbourne Shakespeare Company’s production of  Twelfth Night runs from the 2 – 17 March 2019 at Central Park.

Photo credit: Burke Photography

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